I live in LeRaysville, Pennsylvania. Today is November 27—the start of deer season. School is closed. It's always closed, on this day, for this reason. On November 27, everyone gets geared up and goes out into the woods. Except the woods is everywhere. So most people either go out and hunt or they stay home. And an accident always happens on the first day of deer season—someone gets shot. It's like there's a timer going off in everyone's heads and until this timer goes off, it's hunting as always. But once it goes off, that's it. Everyone closes up shop, goes home, and we all look at each other around the dinner table. We eat our deer. And everyone knows—this brother, this father, this friend—they met their end to some cause everyone holds close to their chest, in their silent heart.
That sort of frontier justice is still active here. And the fear that surrounds it, also still active. As I sit at table, year after year, and listen to Father pray, I can feel it just around me—asking me what I think on various issues—I know that the most reasonable thing to do is to say as little as possible, laugh loudly, and let everyone think whatever they're going to think anyway.
LeRaysville has 290 people—290 hearts, 580 lungs, 290 brains if you could call them that. One Amish cheese factory. One place to buy sandwiches like lunch. One store (also run by Amish people) right across the street from our one church (which we don't go to, as the pastor and her daughter Abigail are devil worshipers). There's one cash machine in the whole town, next to the Amish supply store, across from the church, which is called Dille Parish. And when I say there is one cash machine, let me paint you this picture: there is pretty much one paved street in town. As you drive into LeRaysville, from Montrose, you will see nothing, nothing, and more and more concentrated forms of nothing until you come into "town"—meaning the Amish supply store on the right-hand side of the street, with its cash machine, and on the left-hand side of the street, the church. That's it: ie you can get out of your car and lie down safely in the street as the chance of another car coming by is smaller than the chance of Abigail coming out of her mom's house and poking you with her shoe.
"Hey Monster!" (That's me talking to Abigail.)
"Umm hmm. What's going on here?"
I'm looking at the trees.
"It's deer season."
"Yes, hence the blaze orange. Like mine?"
Abigail steps up on one toe and turns her head. Blaze orange hair tie.
"Nice. Like mine?" I say.
I don't move at all. Abigail puts her foot on me and rolls me around. Blaze orange backpack. Blaze orange baseball cap. Blaze orange shoelaces.
"I think you'll be fine," Abigail says.
"I hope so."
That's how empty it is on our street. Just how fucking empty. I lie there and look at Abigail's head. Pretty grizzle, red and grey, she's also a senior at school. Abigail and her mom moved here four years ago. I go inside the rectory sometimes. Abigail will be sitting at the main table doing homework—a huge circular wood table in a corner room. Abby's mom will be in the kitchen with my parents' jam, opening it and smelling it and saying, "Hi! Well! What are we going to make out of you?" and smiling real big. That's how small this town is—if you go to my friend's house, the jam my friend's mom is using is from our house. And mostly, Abby's mom doesn't make anything out of it. She just talks to it and eats it straight.
"So," Abigail says.
"So," I say.
"So!" Abby says. "Are you running from something? Want to come inside?"
I sit up.
"I can't. I can't! I have to meet Ian. I have to! I have to. We made this date days ago and I'm snuffled—I'm snorked!—I have to go..and find him..and go hunt the deer and so on and so forth etcetera etcetera until we find the deer and kill the deer. Kill the deer!" I say, ramming my hands into the asphalt that has made up this street from the first time they laid it.
Abby sits down.
"So find the deer and kill the deer."
"Why don't you go with me. Seems less accident-prone."
"No thank you," she says. "Isn't there an accident every year?"
"There is. Every year. One person. How can you call that an accident?"
"I don't think you can."
Abby gets up and holds out her hands.
I take them and she picks me up.
"You're so nice..which I'll never be."
"Why don't you meet me here after the run, and I'll meet you, and together we'll have prettiness and poeticism right there in that house!"
"I think I can make it that long."
Abigail, one hand on my shoulder: "Of course you can."
And BG smiles, and it's beauty to me. She runs up the steps through her huge yard with a gazebo and in through the side door and a second later I see her waving at me through the window.
I smile back.
I pick up my gun.
I continue down the street.
There is no snow on the ground, but it's cold. I go where the Amish store and Abby's house cannot see me, and I think about taking that gun and putting it at my head and taking the out door. These doors are available almost everywhere. After you pulled the trigger, of course your story would affect a lot of people, but you wouldn't be here—so who would care? I had to go find Ian. We had to go hunting today. And we had to avoid becoming one of the hunting accidents of open season.
I always thought Ian was a little weird. Not sure what triggered me about him—Ian was the white crayon in a box of eight. I was the black. Maybe that's the best you could say.
When I got to Ian's house, he was sitting on the porch, very upright, wearing his blaze orange around his neck in a long scarf, reading a tiny black booklet.
"Bird calls," he says. "We might use some of these on today's hunt."
His 12 gauge is leaning up against the house.
"Well let's go," I said. Let's go.
And Ian pocketed his book, picked up his shotgun, and the two of us were on our way. We just walked into the woods at the side of his house—that was good enough. Like I said: the woods here were everywhere. Most places you walked were woods—the rest (houses, roads, schools) were the exception to the rule.
We walked side by side. Mostly we were quiet. On occasion we talked.
"How's Abigail?" Ian asked me.
"Abigail..yeah, she's fine. I mean last time I saw her."
"Come on. You saw her right before this."
"How do you know that?"
"Because. She's special to you."
I stop walking.
"What do you mean by that?"
Ian keeps on through the woods. He looks to the sky and makes a film director motion with his hands.
"She's like.. I don't know the words, bro'. She's special to you."
His hands fall and Ian turns back to me. His red hair falls in his face and he adjusts its curtain tie—perfect ponytail—layers of the sun.
"Isn't that right?" he says.
"Yeah," I say. "That's right."
Ian cocks his head to the side and does this motion with his open mouth—which is perfect and expresses everything—then he turns his back to me again and walks forward, trees all around him, me following, not a deer in sight.
That's the last thing I needed: Ian thinking about how I think about Abigail. It irked me to know that he was. Ian was totally fishy—a fish—and that was ok except not between Abigail and me. Abigail and me had our own language and fish was not it. We were more like a knife on a scale of justice—though I was not sure who was who. But it wasn't fish. And it wasn't motherfucking Ian.
Ian walked forward. I walked after. For a while I didn't think of Ian, or Abigail, or even myself. I let my mind settle down with the leaves and the trees and the nearby deer, smelling and watching us from their safe distance. Catching a deer was my last priority.
"Hey, Ian—wait up."
He stopped and turned and pulled the black book out of his pocket.
"Purple finch," Ian says.
He thrusts the book in my face as I approach. There are two pictures: male and female, and a bunch of tiny charts.
I try to hear the bird but cannot.
"Am I supposed to be able to—"
"Hear that?" Ian says.
"I can't hear it!" I say, pushing the book out of my face.
"Ok well shut up! Shut up! You can't hear it if you're talking!"
"Give me that!" I say, and go for the book. "Give me that!"
"Take it. Take it."
Ian dances around with his book in the air.
"Go ahead. And. Take it! You'll never take it, macho boy."
I punch him in the stomach but he has his stomach tightened.
Ian smiles at me and I feel my face get hot.
"See? See? You're way too macho to take this. The most macho boy in this forest would never be able to take this from me!"
"Fuck it! Fuck!!" I say. "No boy in the forest can take it from you because you're holding it too tight, you faggot!"
Ian and I both breathe out. He holds the book down where I can reach it. I push it back to him.
"Keep your fucking book."
Ian looks at me closely.
"Keep your book, you faggot."
"Ok. I'm keeping it."
"Good. And keep it where I can't see it. I don't give a fuck about the purple finch."
Ian puts the book back in his pocket. We both look at each other in the face, then Ian says:
"Come up here."
He taps me on the shoulder.
"Come up here," he says. "The littlest deer only live in this valley. Come on. Bucks up this way."
We walk up over the hill down south and toward the sandwich shop, back into a place where it's high and dry now without snow. I let Ian walk before me a little bit, then a little bit more. The back of his red hair before me.
Then we come upon some dudes—Larry, Kevin—who are already up in the space where we're headed. And the first thing we hear is boom!—Larry shooting his shotgun.
Kevin turns around, pointing.
"We got one!"
"No we didn't, dumbass."
"You missed that one? That one was easy!"
"It was easy if you had your eyes open," Larry says.
"What are you doing hunting with your eyes closed?" Kevin says.
"All kinds of shit," Larry says, bringing a bottle of Evan Williams to his mouth. He drinks and wipes his lips on his blaze orange—a strip on the side of his sleeve—then holds the bottle out to us.
"No thanks," I say.
"Aww, pussies!" Larry says.
"We have our own," Ian says.
"Let me see," Larry says.
"That's ok," I say. "We'll leave you this hill."
Then Kevin's gun goes boom! and he's shot something—hopefully an animal—and Larry and Kevin phew us off to do their own shooting and to leave us to ours.
"What's up this way?"
"Your death," I say.
Ian turns to me and shakes his head: There's nothing you would do to me except say stupid things to get my attention. Now you have it. Go ahead. Then nothing? Ok.
Ian turns back and he's walking.
I follow, follow that bright red-head boy through the woods. We go over hill, under gorge, across land that through the seasons changes from green to brown to white and back again.
"Abigail is a good friend," I say.
"She's only a good to you because she likes you."
"That's what I'm saying."
Ian stops walking. He looks up at the underside of the trees.
"This is where I've seen some good bucks."
He takes out his bird book and flips through it.
"Have you seen some good birds here, too?"
"Not that you would care."
"No, show me."
I walk up next to Ian.
He looks at me skeptically.
"There's this red-headed woodpecker—"
"Aw, come on."
"Ok. Asshole." He's turning pages. "There's this great-crested flycatcher. I've seen those here before."
"What's that symbol mean?"
"It means does not display sexual dimorphism. Do you really care?"
"I care, I care!"
"That means both sexes of adults—"
"I get it! I know what sexual dimorphism means. I just didn't understand the symbol."
"Jesus, Evan. Get a grip."
"I have a grip."
"What is your problem?"
"Tell me," I say. "Tell me what my problem is."
Evan lifts his head from the bird book. His green eyes meet my own.
"Your problem," he says, "is a lack of emotion. A lack of connection with the other person who you are talking to. See? When we're standing here in the woods, just the two of us, sighting birds—"
"We're hunting, aren't we? Hunting the stag?"
"We're not hunting the stag! What a ridiculous term. If we were hunting the stag we'd be like Kevin and Larry back there, with a bottle in one hand and our guns in the other and we'd be shooting randomly at anything that moved, inviting the LeRaysville open season hunting accident—right?"
"I suppose you are right."
Ian flips through pages in his book.
"Now this—this is an interesting bird."
"What is it?"
I get close by his side.
"This is a loggerhead shrike."
"What's so interesting about it?"
"It kills other birds and small animals and impales the uneaten portions of their bodies on thorns. I think that's interesting."
"That is interesting."
Ian and I look at each other, and I remember this one time in school when Ian made a pass at me. I relive the entire moment in my head right now, wonder if he's doing the same, and look away.
"Do you see those up here much?" I say.
Ian says, "Yes, I do."
And Ian closes the book and walks on.
I take my place behind him.
We walk a long way, well outside of town. Past the Amish cheese factory (which Ian informs me has been bought by non-Amish people, even though they kept calling it the Amish cheese factory.
"No it hasn't."
"Yes. It has.") Whatever. If he wants to say it has, fine. We cross by the Amish—or whatever—cheese factory.
Then Ian stops. He holds up a fist like they do in the military special ops and takes his gun off his shoulder.
I do the same and wait.
Ian has his gun up, and I do the same.
I see what he's looking at: a couple of bucks, eating together—berries—and instantly aware of our presence. They look up, smelling our smell. Even though they can't see us, they know we're here—we've tripped their senses and they'll wait like this for us to go away, to get closer, or they'll just wait for a long, long time in this new posture. And we'll wait, too.
We'll wait with Ian in front and me in back, me watching Ian through the air—then the gun in my arms swaying over toward his body—me watching him through my scope—that red hair—and then swaying my scope back to the deer.
I wish those deer could see us. Wish they could see us in our blaze orange. See two boys, far through the woods. See where we had come from. Get their opinion on what we had discussed: Abigail, the loggerhead shrike. Get their opinions on Ian and I—this strange combination of human personalities coming up to kill them.
Then my gun muzzle came back over to Ian's head, scope revealing knots in his hair—I thought they were personality markers—twists in his outflowing—tiny imperfections meaning—what?—something, surely—some type of Puritan markage coming out of his fire—some type of flower, ignition, burn.
I looked behind me. No one. Looked back to Ian's head.
Ian was in meditation with the two bucks. Solidly. I knew he was waiting on them to move, so he didn't have to shoot. I had done the same thing. You could either shoot to miss—and be called a bad shooter—or you could not shoot, and wait, and hope that somewhere in there the deer came to their senses and ran away.
"Ian," I whispered, looking at the deer through my scope.
One deer started. The other, not.
"Shh!" Ian said.
Both deer alerted and ran away.
Ian raised his rifle and turned to me.
"What?" he said. "What is it?"
"Sorry I made you miss your shot."
"Well I had a perfect one."
"I know you did," I say.
"I know you had a perfect shot. I'm sorry I made you miss it."
"Are you sorry..or not? You can't have it both ways."
"Why can't I? Can't I? Can't I have it both ways?"
Ian points at me.
"You are a psychopath."
"Maybe," I say, coyly. "Maybe I am."
"I just wanted to come hunting with you. That's all. But you've got an agenda up in there."
"Up there!" he says, tapping on his noggin. "You want to talk about it," he says. "About it! Go ahead! Talk about it."
Ian leans on his rifle in what I can only describe as an unsafe manner.
"Let's have it. Out. Out. You wanna have discussy times, let's have it. Come on! Let's have it. Discuss!"
"Ok!" I say. "First of all: Abigail—"
"Oh god!" Ian says.
"No it's relevant!"
"It's not relevant!" Ian says. "Relevant to what? To this? To hunting the stag or whatever you think it is we're doing out here?"
"Well go on," Ian says, waving his hand around his head.
"I want to know..why you think she's so important to me."
"Fuck man! Because you're gay!"
"I am?" I say.
"Yes!" Ian says.
"What of it?"
"Nothing! Nothing. Be what you are! Although..you might want to be careful about being who you are around here. That's it. You're gay. Abigail is gay. I'm gay. Couple other people here and there. This ain't New York, though—or Binghamton."
"How did you know?"
"Evan, it's not just one thing. I can tell, mostly."
"You can tell?"
"Yeah. It's just the way you walk..or the way you defend defenseless characters in English class..gay."
"You can't tell by the way I defend defenseless characters in English. You can't tell by that."
"Ok," Ian says. "Whatever. Maybe I can't tell. Maybe I'm wrong—"
"You're not wrong."
Ian rubs the top of his tongue against his teeth and rolls his eyes.
"Can we hunt?"
"Yeah. But. Just a second. Can we talk about this more for just a second?"
"I just didn't think I was that obvious."
"It's usually more obvious to people around you than it is to you, honestly—don't worry about it."
"What is obvious?"
"Like when somebody likes a girl? Isn't that obvious to you? They do things like let her go ahead in the cafeteria line. That's obvious. Or they let her have the paints she wants in art class. It's ok, man—it's just the way the world works. When you're going after something, you go after it—it blinds you to what you're doing. You just go after it. That simple."
"Is it ok because it sounds like it's not ok."
"Because it sounds like it's not ok," Ian says.
I stand there embarrassed.
"If you want to talk about it—ever—let me know—"
"I won't want to talk about it with you."
"Ok! Talk to Abigail. Have you ever talked with Abigail?"
"I'll deal with it," I say.
Ian looks me up and down.
"Do you want to hunt?" I say.
"I don't really see the point of it, now," Ian says.
I shrug, we get our guns ready, and Ian points to the horizon. I nod, and we're on our way.
We walk through the leafless trees.
Through a forest of winter.
And Ian went first—I went behind. I thought of what Ian had said—that when you're going after something, it blinds you to what you're doing—and I thought that seemed right. We hunted squirrels like that: got them while they were snatching food for their burrows. And that was how you got a damned cat to get inside: drop food on the ground then pick him up, drag him inside and plop him on the floor..and by that time he had forgotten the food he'd left behind. A lot of things worked that way.
As Ian went ahead of me, hunting the stag or whatever he was doing, I hoped his attention to named stag kept him from realizing what was happening behind him, in my brain, in my mind.
When Ian stopped, I stopped.
When Ian moved again, I moved, once again.
Ian never turned around to see me—I wish he would have. I wish his big gay ass would have turned around, seen me standing there with my finger on the trigger, looking at him through my scope, riding his ass—then?
Might he have pulled up his gun and pulled the trigger faster than me? Might he have pulled a hand grenade from his pants, alongside the bird book, and tossed it at me?
These were the scenarios I imagined, as Ian took one step, then I took one step, through the woods that day. But none of those scenarios occurred.
Ian trusted me.
As every hunter trusts every other hunter.
When two men agree to walk through the isolated woods together, each holding a rifle or shotgun, there is a level of trust. Ian never saw me coming. He was used to LeRaysville, used to being gay in LeRaysville, used to hunting with various men who never killed him before—most of them not-gay—so who was I?
Just another gay kid—of whom there were not many—that Ian had encountered in his time here (17 years)—who were more likely to write "FAGGOT" on his locker than do what I was about to do.
The fist in the air: stop.
His fist shakes.
And I decide it's time to do what I came here to do:
Wrap my finger 'round the trigger.
Eye in the reticle.
Ian's red hair bounces outside the frame.
Pull. The. Trigger.
For one second, the air is still. I feel Ian's weight in my arms.
Then he falls. Gun hits the ground. Blood spot all over.
That was the greatest thing I'd done in my life.
Black sludge..black sludge..black and black and down and down.
I went to a day in the 10th grade.
A day which changed my life.
A day that took me a long time to figure out.
One of those days that leaves grit under your fingernails.
I was in video class—videography—and we had these small editing rooms, off of the main room, and that's where you'd go to edit your movie..or shoot an interview, something that needed a small space.
Ian was in one of those. He had junk all over the place: lights (Kino Flos), microphones (Sennheisers), and a bounce card partially obstructing the window.
The windows were dicey. You had to be able to get it dark enough in there to edit video—like get the colors right on the monitor, and be able to see what you were looking at—but you also had to make sure that students weren't making out in the editing rooms. To this end, each of the editing rooms had mini blinds over the mesh glass, on the inside. But teachers would come by periodically to check on what was going on inside the rooms.
I was looking for a place to edit. I opened Ian's door.
"No, it's ok. Actually, do you mind helping me with something?"
I hardly knew Ian then. I mean, we had gone to the same school since we were in kindergarten, but you will find that having a small cadre of friends is key to surviving a small town life—as I was attempting to do.
The only things I knew about Ian were that he was exceedingly comfortable with himself, that he was extremely knowledgeable about things in and out of the classroom, and that he was probably homosexual.
"Sure, I'll help you."
"Thanks. Come on in. Be careful of the—"
"I got it. What are you doing in here?"
"I'm filming an interview for my Personal Identity Project."
"Who are you interviewing?" I asked.
"Myself," he said, and I wasn't sure if he was joking or making fun of me or what. "I'll sit here and maybe you can prompt me with these questions."
Ian pointed at a large sheet of paperboard taped to the wall. There were questions written on it in Krink super-phat marker (which was on the floor). It said things like: What is your relationship to your mother? Or:
" 'What is your favorite subject in school?' "
Ian looks at me before he sits down.
"That's just a suggestion—it's just a prompt! Skip it! Skip it! You have better questions in mind, I'm sure."
Ian sits in the subject chair. He is adjusting the lamp above his head.
"You don't have to help, Evan."
"No I want to help. I want to. I'm just getting a grasp on how literal these prompts are."
"Not literal at all."
"Just..have a seat. You're making me nervous."
"Wait. Can you tell me..does my hair look ok?"
"You've got..well..yeah. Right there. You got a cowlick, my friend."
"Did I get it?"
And I do. I press record and I ask a few questions and I listen to Ian talk, watch his Adam's apple, watch his hands fiddle in his lap like a girl's—and I wish I could get that on camera. But I don't want to make him nervous: he is my rare bird, I have him here in captivity, for a moment, and I don't want him self-conscious. I want him just like he is—royal and free—some kind of colors—an accomplice in me having him trapped—
"Do you want to ask me the next question?"
"Sure. What did you think this project was going to be, when Mrs Kessler assigned it, that's different from how it is now?"
"I don't want to answer that question."
"Well you have to."
"Evan, come on."
"No. I'm the interviewer. That's my question."
"Fuck me. You get a little interviewer responsibility and you take off on your own! How about one of the questions from the paper?"
Ian gets up and taps the paper on the wall, and I don't know if it was me grabbing him or him grabbing me (or both) but it ended up with Ian sitting on my lap and Ian and I kissing. And it was a serious kiss—it was mega—and Ian's scratchy lips rubbed against mine. That was the first time I had kissed a guy. And Ian was a prime example—before that I hadn't known he was gay. At least I didn't think I did? But here he was, on my lap, and we exchanged pheromones, and I must have liked it because things were getting big.
Then Mrs Kessler opened the door. And that would have been bad enough, but behind here was this girl named Sarah and some other kids popped into the frame and soon the story was all over school and my face burned for the rest of the day.
Everywhere I went, kids talked. They pointed. They stared.
I let Ian finish the rest of his Personal Identity Project by himself. I stayed away from the editing bays.
It took a long time for Ian and I to become friends. He would come to me at lunch and I'd reject him. He'd come to me outside and sit next to me on the wall and I'd face the other way until he left. Eventually I saw him outside of school and no one was around so I slowed down on the road and we walked together for about 20 minutes.
He said: "I'm sorry."
I quietly said it was ok.
And I wanted to hold his hand. But I couldn't. You never knew who was watching from within the houses along the street.
That's a story from the 10th grade. That's where I had to take you back to, so you could understand what happened today.
Black black black..burble burble.
I pull the trigger and it hits Ian.
Step forth. Twenty steps.
Ian's body is contorted on the ground.
His bird book fallen to the ground, open to some new species that never existed here in northeast PA.
I kick him. Then look at his head. It is blown through, fallen in on itself, collapsed.
That was Ian, I think. That was Ian.
Don't let it happen to you.
I look around—no one.
Then I kneel beside him. The bird book has blood on it. I pick it up, put it in my pants pocket. Put my hand on his neck and feel for a pulse. Not there. That's how we do a hunting accident.
I stand, and it's all around me, thickening with every second—snow. Snow covering Ian. Snow falling upon me. We are both blanketed in this pure white, and it is a reset.
Settling my rifle over my shoulder, I look down at the body. His dick is out. His fly is open.
I shake my head and look twice.
His dick is out. His fly is open. A shot has expired next to his cock, then next to his head? No. There is a shot—shot one—next to his dick, then a shot—shot two—through his head.
I kneel back down.
Reach to touch his dick—did he have his dick out?
If he did, that would give me reason to shoot—right? Or would it be better if I didn't have a reason to shoot? This was an accident, wasn't it?
I look around me once more. No one. Just the sound of the snow. And I quickly attend to Ian's body: I put his dick back in his pants and button him up. That shot hit his leg. Ian's blood is all over my hands and I check his body visually while wiping them off in the snow, then kicking the snow powder over that spot where I wiped them..one shot, two shot, consistent with an accident..two guys hunting..that was all. When did he have his dick out? But he did, that was what was important. And now he didn't—and it was like he never did have it out—and he was more than symbolically dead.
Check the weight in my pocket—bird book still there.
And now, I walk back to town.
On the way, I look back every 10 feet or so, checking that Ian hadn't mustered the ability to get up from that..and he hadn't. Or he was waiting, hiding as if dead, but that couldn't be..that body I had seen back there was dead. Dead like the Greeks thought, with the river Styx bounding between Earth and the Underworld. He was stopped cold—without even coins to pay Charon, the ferryman, to row him across the river once he had reached the afterlife.
I thumbed the binding of the bird book inside my pocket. Ran a finger inside its pages—thinking of every magical bird contained within, every bird I could collect, like cards for Magic, forming the perfect hand.
After a while, I came to Abigail's house. On my right was the Amish store, on my left was the Dille Parish church and next to it, the house where Abby and her mom lived.
I went to Abby's door and almost knocked but I could see Abby and her mom sitting in the living room watching TV. And it looked so comfortable: each of them on huge soft chairs part of a sofa, each with hot cocoa, each dressed in their PJs. They were watching what Abigail's mom called, "mindless TV"—Lifetime movies, mostly—sometimes game shows like Chopped—occasionally the news.
I imagined myself next to them (naturally) as my family was composed much differently. In my family it was always the news. Or dictates from my father about how a man should be (mostly subtle references to something called a work ethic—which I didn't think he contained). Also: Biblical references from Mother about what happens when a man lied with a man or a woman lied with a woman—seemed senseless to me in this day but extremely important in the town of LeRaysville. Extremely important. Like we were an island off the coast of a vacation spot where no one ever came, and our rules were allowed to be a little out of date. But no matter how out of date they were overall in the country they were not out of date here.
I had never been anywhere but here. I mean—Binghamton. But never lived anywhere but LeRaysville. Only the internet provided a way out—for a few minutes each day—from this trap, this cage of birth.
On the internet I could see New York: webcams in Times Square. And the people! So so many people. I imagined them—every one—more progressive than the most progressive person in LeRaysville.
I imagined them even more progressive than Abigail and Abigail's mother. They had lived in some big city before this—Philadelphia maybe, and when I saw Abigail's mother (also a brunette) sitting in her chair with her laptop, I wondered what she was researching on her computer. I thought it must be something interesting and big, and I wanted to jump in between her and the computer screen and talk for hours. My thoughts would surely entice. And even if they didn't—I would listen to hers.
Yeah, I put myself on that couch between them: Abby and her safe mother, the only two people in town I could talk to, in a fantasy that I lived many days. And I readied my hand over the door. And I knocked. I could see the two of them conferring: are you expecting anyone? No, are you? No? Well I'll get it! Innocent Abigail jumps up from her seat—a safe friend for me—and comes to the front door.
She opens it.
Looks me up and down.
"You've got blood on you."
"I know. I came to talk to you about that."
"What do you have to say?"
"Can I come in?"
"Yes. You can come in."
Abigail opens the door all the way and stands with her back to it.
I come in, past Abigail, into the dining room, where Mrs Temple can see me.
"Covered in blood. We can see."
Abigail closes the door and stands beside me.
"What happened to you?"
"It's more..what happened to Ian."
Sharon stands up.
"Evan..you're covered..in blood!"
"Yeah, I know."
"Where is Ian?" Abigail asks me.
"He's in the woods," I say.
"What's his status?"
"His status? Is that he's dead!"
"Yes, his status is that he's dead. It's snowing. The ground is covered in snow. Ian is lying in the snow. And Ian..is..dead."
"An accident. I shot him."
"Evan. Sit the fuck down. I'm radioing for an ambulance."
So I do: I sit. I pull out one of the dining room chairs on this lightly colored wood table and sit my ass down with an assignment not to move, not to breathe, not to think another word in case someone happened to be listening.
Abigail's mother is by my side, Mrs Temple, taking off my shoes and saying, "Shh, shh," and saying, "Where is your rifle?" and I say, "It's outside. I know you don't like guns," and she says, "Thank you," and she's removing my pants and as she does, Ian's bird book comes out of the pocket and I bend down to pick it up and I put it on the dining room table and Sharon is going to get me warm clothes and Abigail is on the radio saying oh-so calmly: "Prior 2. Maybe got a prior 1 in the woods. Come to Dille Parish rectory. Oh god."
I pick up the bird book and, in my underwear, flip through the pages.
Abigail tears the radio from her mouth and sets it on the dining room table.
"Is that Ian's?" she says.
Abigail puts one finger down on the wooden table.
"Give it, now. Evan. Stop reading. Close the book. Put it on the table. Do you hear me?"
I turn my head and look at her.
Her eyes are pleading.
I slap it down on the table and Abigail picks it up, leaves the room, comes back in a few seconds, and says: "Was this a real accident?"
I shrug. I turn and look at her again.
Abigail reads my eyes.
"Ok, I understand." She lowers her voice to a whisper. "But for the purposes of today's exercises, the answer is yes. Do you understand? That's the whole answer. It was an accident—right? Do you want it to be an accident?"
Abigail comes around in front of me and holds both my hands. She kneels.
"Then that's exactly what it was."
I nod again.
"Ok," Abigail says.
She stands, lets go my hands, and says:
"Let's get you cleaned up."
The ambulance arrives. Mr and Mrs Grump get out the back. Stan Marple is driving—he stays in his seat. This elderly couple files into Sharon's kitchen and surrounds me.
"What happened, Evan?"
"Mrs Grump, I don't know. I thought it was a deer. I shot. It was Ian."
"Ian Riggs," Mrs says to Mr.
Mrs says to me: "Are you hurt?"
"No," I say.
"Are you sure Ian is dead?"
"I'm pretty sure," I say. "I blew off half his head."
"We better take a look," Mrs Grump says. "Can you show us where he is?"
"Let's go, then—can you walk?"
"Yes, I can."
"Thank you Mrs Temple, Abigail."
A memory of Abigail standing in the doorway waving—except she wasn't waving, just in my memory. In real life she stood there, leaning against the doorframe, looking as beautiful as anyone I had ever seen.
We parked on the edge of the woods where Ian and I had been walking. The Grumps carried a blaze yellow stretcher. Stan stays with the ambulance—that's his beast.
"Is it this way?"
"Yes, I think. This is where we saw Larry and Kevin."
"You saw Larry and Kevin?"
"Yes, they were shooting."
"How long before the accident?"
"Maybe 20 minutes."
"Up over this hill?"
"Yes, I think so."
"Here's a set of tracks—human."
"That's us. Should be right across this trough."
"Right across this trough?"
"I think so."
"Here we go. Here we go. Oh god. Oh. My. God. That's him?—Honey?—Is that him?"
"Do you think he's breathing?"
"No, I don't think he is."
"Evan, come this way. I want you to identify him."
"You know that's him!"
"But I want you to identify him. I want you to tell me straight up and narrow that that's him. Evan?"
"I can't see with all the snow on his face, but I know that's him!"
"Come look at his face, kid! Gotta have some firsthand knowledge saying this is Ian before we put 'im on the board and transport him."
But I wasn't listening. I wasn't looking. I was standing in the woods, under snow, with my face turned to the sky, watching all those little flakes come down, and down, and down—and knowing this would be something I would deal with for the rest of my life.
Walking over to Ian, step by step by step.
Saying, "Yes, that is Ian."
Turning, so I couldn't see them put Ian's body on the stretcher. Following, 20 steps behind them, as the Grumps carried my former—friend?—through the woods. Staring at Ian's shotgun perched on Mr Grump's back—wishing I had it. I would blow them all away. Then myself. Leave even more blood on the whitefall ground.
But that's not what happened.
What happened is that I followed them quietly through the woods, back to the ambulance, and wished myself away with the dying of the light.
Riding back with the Grumps in the ambulance, I sat in the middle of them—Stan kept Ian company. It was silence so Mr Grump tuned the radio randomly, then flipped it off.
"What did you do with that boy's penis?" Mrs Grump says.
"I didn't do anything with it," I say. Then: "How can you tell?"
"There's blood on his thigh," she says. "His snatch area. So even if—if he had unzipped and took a piss and zipped back up before he was shot..there wouldn't be no blood there. But there being his own blood there around his snatch area, that musta been someone else—probably you—and something was done to him after he was shot."
"He unzipped himself," I say. "Then after he was dead I zipped him up."
"Ok. As long as that was the way of it. Why did he unzip in the first place—he have to pee?"
"No. He showed himself to me. I didn't want that to be apparent when he was dead."
"Everything's apparent with the dead," Mr Grump says.
The old man is looking out the window.
Mrs Grump takes one hand off the steering wheel and comforts my leg.
"Yes it is," she says.
"At least—" I start. "I mean—I think that's the way it happened. I don't remember quite clearly."
"No one ever does. With the dead, I mean. No one ever remembers what happened quite clearly."
"Well I'm trying. The truth is..I didn't remember he had his dick out until after he was dead—after he got shot."
"Why don't you tell us what you do remember."
"Ian was walking ahead. I looked up. We were totally quiet. Then he saw a buck and shot it—I shot it—then I saw that Ian was dead. I ran up to him and his brains were all out everywhere and it was only then that I noticed his cock hole was open and he had his dick out. I wanted to give him some security when you all or whoever found him, so I closed his cock inside his fly and then I walked back to Abby's and Abby's mother's house and we called you."
"Did you shoot him in the dick?"
"It's ok, Evan. These things work themselves out in the end."
I nod my "ok." What I was really doing, in that ambulance with Mrs Grump to my left and Mr Grump to my right, was reimagining the scene: specifically: how Ian's brains looked in the snow and that they had been thinking gay thoughts right before he died. Thoughts of dick, of dick in mouth and dick in ass. Two dicks, two asses. One of them presumably mine. Cock fucking assholes. Big dick/little dick. Frankenstein.
What I was really doing—right there, right then—was imagining how Ian's thoughts played out when his brains were separated on the snow—little thought here, little thought there. Did we die all at once, or did we die in strokes—consciousness splitting into a thousand pieces, running itself out from multiple angles, becoming more than one at that last minute, one in this snarl of brains, one in that.
That's what I always think about when I see someone die where their brains get blown apart or split up in pieces—like on TV.
Para-angles of consciousness—no driver.
No audience—no seat of consciousness.
What is left then?
Maybe a piece of brain that can think, but that can't control the mouth or a hand—it has its own experience but can't tell anyone about it—that for a second or two—then poof! It's gone.
My hands are tight as can be, gripping my pants.
I smooth them out, placing them on my legs.
Check both sides of me to see who's looking.
"It's ok, Evan," says Mrs Grump.
She knocks my knee.
"It's a hard day—we knew it would be. There's bound to be one of these accidents every year on this day. By the clock. When I woke up this morning, Mr Gump and I ate our eggs, we looked over the morning papers at each other and we knew. We knew this would happen to someone."
"It always does," says Mr Grump.
"Always does!" says Mrs Grump. "Every year, once a year. You never know where and you never know who but at least you boys had on your blaze orange."
"Least there's that."
"Least there's that!" Mrs Grump says. " 'Member two years ago it was Mr Parcel's son. Or was that three?"
"That was three," Mr Grump says. "Two years ago it was Mrs Grace's boy Liam."
"His name wasn't Liam."
"What was it?"
"I don't know," Mrs Grump says. "But it wasn't Liam."
"Anyway, Ev. Cheer up. The Lord taketh 'em like he sees 'em. Ain't that right?"
"I guess so," I say.
"You guess so?" Mr Grump says. "Believe it!"
"I guess I believe it."
"You guess you believe it? Evan. The good Lord don't have us walking around His Earth with our dicks hanging out wishing that that was the case—he made it so!"
"I guess so."
"Evan. Evan! You're alive and the good Lord hath made it so! Be thankful, if nothing else! You're a good man with a strong young body and able muscles and a sharp mind!"
"Yes, sir, I suppose you're right."
"Goddamn right he's right," Mrs Grump says.
"Yes, ma'am! I suppose you are right!"
She pulls up in front of my house.
"Evan, now: listen to me. The police are going to come to your house this evening—maybe tomorrow—to get a statement. Be brief. It'll be Mabel's son—you remember Mabel?"
"They don't want the whole heaven's playbook. They just want: what happened, where it happened, when it happened. You got that?"
I nod again.
"So: slide on outta here, ok? Me and the Mr gotta take Ian on down to the hospital for his final rest."
That night at dinner it was: Mother, Father, me. Mother had made a house favorite: fried chicken, potatoes au gratin, greens. The fried chicken was in a dish that was red on the outside, white on the inside. The potatoes were in a smaller—also square—dish that was white on the inside with frilly decorations like plants on the outside. The greens were in a similar dish with no decorations.
When I came inside they were sitting.
"Thought we were going to have to go ahead without you."
"Sorry. Sorry Mother."
"It's ok—let's eat!"
After a furious turning of the dishes leaving us all with food, there was a furious doling out of compliments.
"Great skin, Mother—you know I love the skin on your chicken."
"Oh, good. I thought I put too much salt on it this time."
Then Father lifted his head to me.
"Wha'd you catch today?"
"Eh.." I said, chewing. "Not exactly what I expected."
Father's eyebrow raised.
"Not exactly what I expected." I raised my voice.
Mother looked at me, too.
"Did you go out with Ian?" she said.
"Yeah. But I didn't come back with him."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Ian and I had an accident."
Father and Mother both put down their forks. They looked at me. It was my turn to speak.
"Well! We went out together..but only one of us came back! I was trying to—telling Ian—he had a book full of bird species and he was looking for those! I told him to put the bird book down and focus on his hunting! But he wouldn't! He was drastically into his bird book and nothing could sway him! So I said—I said, 'Ian, put that bird book down and focus on this hunt, yay?' and he was like, 'Nay, I will focus on birds if I want have you seen this one it's an Ontario grouse' or something like that and I was like, 'Ian, what is an Ontario grouse doing in Pennsylvania?' and he was like 'That's their zone Pennsylvania is in their zone,' etcetera and I was like, 'Ian, what if a 21-point buck was staring you in the face?' "
I paused, at this point, noticing I was losing my audience.
"So..anyway..I accidentally shot him."
"Yeah..I accidentally shot him and..he's dead."
Blank stares from the audience.
"Mr and Mrs Grump came down and we picked him up and they're taking him to his final resting place. At the hospital. In a bag."
"Yes, ma'am, and thank you for these potatoes."
"You're welcome for the potatoes and you shot him dead?"
"Wasn't he wearing his blaze orange?"
"Yes but you'd be surprised. That blaze orange doesn't pick up so well against certain backgrounds."
"I'm sure," says my dad.
"Who knows about this?" says my mom.
"Well. Abigail. Abigail's mom. Mr and Mrs Grump. I'm sure they've called Ian's parents by now. You, me, him. And they're doing the phone tree."
We're all leaned back now, away from our food.
"Are you ok?" says my mom.
"Not really but I don't want to think about it."
Mother puts her hand on mine.
"He says he doesn't want to think about it," says my dad.
"I'm just just touching my baby's hand. A mother should be able to do that at any time."
"Do you want a beer?" says my dad.
"Get me one, too," he says.
I get up from the table, dropping my mother's hand, and go to the kitchen. As I open the refrigerator door, the two of them are talking. I'm staring at condensation form on the beer cans on the bottom shelf.
"There's always such an accident," my dad is saying.
"I know but not involving our son," my mom says.
"They'll understand. They always do."
"I hope so," my mom says. "I surely hope so."
I grab two beers and go back to the table. Set one next to my dad, set one next to me.
Mom says, "What did you say to the Grumps?"
"What do you mean what did I say?"
"I mean, how did it happen? Did they ask?"
"I don't remember. I told them what there was to say."
"You told them what there was to say?"
"Honey, leave him alone."
My dad flips his beer top.
"I just mean..did they ask the details of what happened?"
I flip my beer top.
"I don't know, Mother. I told them whatever was necessary to tell!"
"Ok, ok: chill. He doesn't need an interrogation. He needs his family. We're here for you, Son. Alright?"
My dad pats my mother's hand, which she withdraws and stands all in one motion. She goes to stand by the fireplace.
I push my chair back but stop when my dad makes a motion with his non-beer hand.
We're all quiet: Mother standing looking down into the fire, Father and I sipping our beers at table. After some time, Mother turns to me—that's it, she just turns and looks at me—and I wonder what she's thinking. She doesn't have a judgment look—it's more of a curiosity look. And I can hear her voice inside my head: How could you have missed the blaze orange? I thought Ian was your friend—special friend? Her eyes shift—seemingly—in their sockets. How could you shoot your friend? Does a human being in blaze orange holding a bird identification book look like a 21-point buck? How could you mistake those two? My mother crosses her arms over her chest—wearing a faded dress—pattern worn—field of flowers—field of leaves. She looks at me like I'm her baby—just born. Then her arms open and make a funnel straight to her and I get up and I run to her, putting my arms through hers and we make a pretzel of hugging and my mother cries.
My father sits gently at the table drinking his beer—sparkle in his eye.
Mother was sitting by the fire kitting mittens and Father sitting next to her, rocking, enjoying his silent reverie, when the police came.
When I say the police, it was just Connor, and Mother stood talking to him at the door for a few minutes before letting him in. Father stood but didn't go over to him. Father and Mother went into the kitchen.
"Can I have a seat?"
He sits in Father's chair and I sit opposite him.
"Hell of a day."
"I just want to ask you a few questions. You're not in trouble. Is that ok?"
"And..this isn't some formal questioning thing. I'm still Connor. You're still Evan. I might be a few years older but you still kissed my sister when you were about this big."
"And I let you do it!" he says. "Remember that?"
"I sure do."
"Mom'll never forget that," he says. "You two was jumping on the trampoline in the back yard and you would jump up in the air and kiss..that's how I remember it anyway."
We're both laughing.
"Ok, just a few questions."
"You and Ian went hunting this morning."
"Just the two of you."
"And you saw..Larry and Kevin?..before this happened?"
"Yes we did."
"And everything was fine at that point?"
"And before that..you saw Abby? Abigail Temple?"
I shift in my chair.
"You guys are thorough!"
"Well," Connor shakes his head. "Small town, you know."
"What did you and Abigail talk about?"
"I don't remember."
"That's ok. I was just curious. Did'ja see anyone else that morning?"
"Mother, Father..I guess that's it."
"Ok, just a few more questions and I'll be outta your hair."
"No problem. Do you want a beer?"
"I better not."
"Mind if I..?"
"Go ahead. So this bird book.."
I look at him cockeyed.
"Did Ian have some sort of bird-identification book with him?"
"Yes, I think so."
"Where is it now?"
"I think I might have picked it up."
"No problem. If you find it, just bring it by later."
Connor flips through his notebook.
"So what exactly happened?"
I shake my head.
"Well, we went hunting.."
I tell him the entire story.
"Ewhh. That sucks," Connor says, when I reach the graphic part about identifying the body with Mr and Mrs Grump.
"Yeah, it does."
"And Ian was your friend?"
"As close as anybody," I say.
"Eww! Suckage, Ev. Major suck suck suck."
I look at Connor.
"Still," Connor leans forward, "this kind of accident is always happening, isn't it? I wonder if we as a community should do something about it—y'know?"
"Was Ian gay—you think?" says Connor.
"I don't know, you know, he was very quiet."
"About those things," Connor says.
"What do you mean?" I say.
"He was very quiet about those things, is what you mean."
"Yeah, I guess so. I guess that's what I mean."
Connor sits back in his chair.
"Well..what do you mean?"
"Connor, don't try to fuck with me. I lost track of the conversation."
"Anything else you want to tell me about today?"
"Any sordid meetings, clandestine telephone calls—?"
Connor leans forward and knocks me on the shoulder.
"I'm just kidding. Jest tryin' to Columbo you—you ever watch any of them old episodes? Lots to learn, in there—lots. Nah, I'm just sorry you had to look upon old Ian Kraus in that state. Poor guy—good guy—but poor guy. Still—you hunt with the natives, you get killed—some of the time. Was he wearing his blaze orange? Extra sad. They say it helps keep you alive but really all it does is give you a false sense of security. You wear your blaze orange when you go out, don't you? Good. Good. Well, alls I can say: keep it that way. And maybe don't go hunting again this season, even if it's your dad who takes you—you know what I'm saying?"
"I'm not sure."
"Well. I'm just saying. If you go hunting with anyone who has a grudge against you..or someone who thinks you're gay—"
"What are you saying?"
"Oh! I'm not saying anything! Just that you never know who might pull the trigger on you out there. For..whatever reason. You catch me?"
"Not exactly. Ian was an accident."
"Oh, I know. But you just never know..in people's heart of darkness..why people do certain things. They might not even know."
I'm standing—we both are—and I'm staring at Connor inscrutably.
Connor says: "I see you enjoying that beer there."
"Well, if you ever wanted to go to an AA meeting, I go to one in Binghamton on Wednesday nights."
"I'll keep that in mind."
"Yeah, it's just for friends..small group..no pressure."
"Ok, I'll keep that in mind."
"We just talk about our problems with alcohol."
"I'm just having one beer."
"Right, I understand," Connor says. "But when does that one beer..become two?"
"Right," I say.
"So if you ever think of it..let me know. Here: take my number."
I get out my phone and give him my number. He calls me. I pretend to save his number.
"Got it!" I say, and put away my phone.
"Now call me to make sure I have it," Connor says.
I take out my phone and (from the recent calls screen) dial his.
"Sweet!" he says. "Remember, if you get a call from me on Wednesday, that's just me wanting to take you to a meeting. Pick it up—even if you don't plan on going."
"Ok. I'll pick up."
He turns to go but turns back.
"I've got some..ooh la la..if you want some," Connor says.
He digs in his top pocket and pulls out a bag of ice: those most perfect crystals of meth.
"No thanks," I say. "Not right now."
Connor puts the bag back in his pocket and says:
"Let. Me. Know."
The sober meth dealer never hit me right. If I ever did go to an AA meeting, it wouldn't be with him.
The next night Mother didn't hold my hand at supper. She quietly withheld it, pretending nothing had happened—and the next night and the next night, for a total of five, until she reached out and grabbed it again—this time stern and loving.
We didn't talk about what had happened at school—just had a moment of silence on Monday. And people looked at me in the halls and stuff—but what was new there?
The principal called me into his office and said if I needed time off from school, to take it. I told him I didn't.
I imagined killing someone else—one of the anti-gay bullies—but it seemed that one per year was the limit.
In class I didn't pay attention—well, less than usual.
I saw Abigail in the halls. She had Ian's bird book with her, tucked under one arm, and sometimes she would take it out and look at the book, then look up at the school's hallway ceiling as if she was spotting a bird.
When I got home from school Tuesday there was a basket of fresh fruit and flowers—candy—that sort of thing. I walked right past it to the stairs.
Mom said, "Don't you want any? It's for you."
"I don't trust fruit that sprouts in the winter."
"It's from the southern hemisphere, I'm sure."
"All the same," I said.
And I went upstairs.
Closed my door.
Came on a sock—can you guess who I thought of?
The phone rang—Abigail.
"You want to come over?" she said.
"I don't think so."
"Well, alright. I sorta need to talk to you but we can do it later."
"What do you need to talk about? Is phone ok?"
"I guess phone is fine."
"Don't say 'What's up?' like a dude. I hate that."
"If you want to talk, I'm listening, Abby."
"Ok, well..I want to take you somewhere. A club. In Binghamton. I'm going so..I just need company. I'll drive."
"What kind of club is this?"
"It's called Never Never Land. You'll like it."
"Why will I like it?"
"It's right up your alley. Maybe you'll even meet someone—who knows? I'm just the captain of this little riverboat. Can you come?"
"Sure. But don't tell my parents."
"Of course. Make up a story and I'll go along with it."
"Is that what you needed to talk to me about?"
"Yes. I'm sure the safety of our little village depends on it."
"Yes, I was thinking about that earlier."
"Well, don't think about it too much! Friday, ok?"
"And dress nice."
"I will! Jeez.."
"Alright, see you, bud."
"See you buddy."
And she hung up.
I lay back on the bed. It was barely four o'clock.
I dreamt of club walls filled with people like me—and how scary that would be. A whole bunch of queers in one space, bumping and grinding to untold music, drinking drinks, Abigail being there to pull me back if I went too far.
And then I dreamt of dragons in a kingdom of snakes, and they were all over my feet even though they couldn't do me any damage. It was just an annoyance, and when I woke, I tried to figure out who were the snakes and who were the dragons—but it was pretty obvious: people like me and Abigail were the dragons, everyone else was the snakes.
Then I slept for a while without dreams that I remembered, and I thought about how much remembering takes a place in our consciousness: if you don't remember something, did it ever happen? It did, in a sense—and in another sense it didn't. I always imagined what it would be like to wake from a blackout drunk, in jail, having no memory of killing someone. That would suck.
In the morning, when I brushed my teeth, I looked in the mirror and thought. I thought: I shot someone. I shot someone!
And no one would come for me—no one would.
Ian's mother had hugged me at the funeral—she would have to, no matter what she thought of our "accident"—anything less would be her admitting publicly that she didn't believe my story. Plus, it was a lot easier for her son this way. A lot, lot easier to die looking at birds than to muster through life being gay in LeRaysville—that was hard.
After I finished brushing my teeth, I walked to school.
Through the alleys and stairways—teenagers making out, choir students practicing—and I walked quietly among them, watching them from the backside and jumping up seven steps at once to pass them, slurking through the hallways like a ninja—invisible, like one I'd seen on TV.
I'd noticed people had stopped paying attention to me—that I was invisible—and that fit me well.
Those inter-class conversations, people sitting by you in the lunch hall—none of that happened for me anymore. The straight kids—who you'd think would be happy for me—were wrapped in their own worlds—thoughts of pussy, thoughts of dick—like cuts of game—terrible ways to think of each other—but we did. We thought of each other as nothing more than meat market wares ("I shagged that pussy!" "Get you some of that deep dicking, girl!"). It was disgusting, and formulaic, and nice—nice like everyone who overuses that word—relationships were nice—babies were nice—young mothers were nice—young fathers, pulled from school to work full-time—those were all nice too.
I'll tell you what I remember about the funeral.
It was in Dille Parish—Abby was there, Sharon was there. Ian's mom sat in the front and I was looking at her funeral hat. A bunch of kids from school showed up (which was expected) and they sat in large groups in the back of the sanctuary.
Titters and whispers could be heard from their direction.
Some had their cameras out, holding them upright, videoing the whole event. I sat with my parents but sometimes snuck a view of the kids in the back, their faces enlightened by their screens.
It was Kitty and Sam—a couple since Homecoming—Dan, Mike, Rob, Beth, Adele, Sarah..some other people.
Then a bunch of adults I recognized as people's parents.
Ian was there, too—dressed in a suit in a pine box all up in front of us all—flowers everywhere.
I remember when we walked up to see him: remember in the line, Abby before me, watching her bend and kiss him, expecting he was cold, then watching her place the bird book inside his coffin and moving on.
Remember when it was me, going up to him, feeling everyone in the church looking at me—thinking whatever they thought—watching Ian's killer approach him, watching that killer stumble up the stair, watching me come upon his coffin, looking at how well they had made him up around his head and neck—perfectly fine for an open display—and watching me, watching me, as I took his hand and picked it up and kissed it. Imagining Ian's parents wishing I hadn't done that—remembering the day he died! Basically the two of us in a field of trees, boys playing with guns, two kids (in some eyes) who had no business being there in the first place. Two kids who had every business being there—doing what we all did, hunting on the first day of open season.
Remembering touching his hand for the last time, touching it with my lips and feeling like I had as much right as anyone to do so—I loved him, after all.
Then moving on down the stair with my head down, avoiding everyone's glances..going the long way to the back of the sanctuary, opening the door to snow, stepping outside the building, thought about leaving, stopped, turned, looked up at the trees, saying a short prayer (God, please let me get away with this) and going back inside..up the center aisle back to where my parents were.
I remember Abby's mother, saying her short sermon about Ian and loss and—subtly—about how we shouldn't be carrying firearms all around the woods without expecting that someone would get shot. And even more subtly about how there's a killing on the first day of open season every year and how we might want to look at the pattern of that..etcetera. I got it. I totally got it. And Sharon looked right at me for the parts that were meant for me.
I remember singing—and crying. Music is always what breaks me down. We sang a song I recall from camp: Our God Is An Awesome God—and that broke me down. From the moment I saw that was in the program, I knew that I would be standing there singing—crying—crying but singing, singing but crying, and that Abigail would come to stand with me: Abby, me, my mom and dad. That she would put her arm around me, me holding the hymnal, us both looking at its words and lines of music that I barely understood. That she would hold my hand. Abigail was always one to love the sinner—if you know. I was about to say "if I'd killed somebody" but I guess that is the case.
She stood with me there until the end, until everyone had said their things and there was a receiving line for the family and we had all gone through it including me staring at Ian's mom and her giving me this huge hug and I was pressed up against her well dressings and her tears soaked through my shirt.
Then I hugged Ian's little sister. That was hard. To hug the sister of someone you killed as protection—as safety.
I wondered if she knew it.
She certainly knew it.
Ian was better than me—I could feel that feeling coming off Ian's sister, as she pulled me in, held me tightly, let go.
She looked at me as she let me go and I knew she knew.
I knew it like I know my own name—that 10th grader's eyes looked on me with love, but with knowledge. She knew.
And after that, everyone gathered at the gazebo and sung some more. It was disgusting. After an entire funeral you had to drag me and Ian's mom and sister through all the same, again—the family was pulled inside the gazebo, toward the front, and I stayed as far away from the apparatus as possible. My parents stayed with me, and we sang every goddamn song that people could remember the lyrics to—fucking horrifying, let me tell you. At a time when I'm sure all Ian's family wanted to do was get the hell out of there, this entire church full of people delayed going home with hymn after remembered hymn.
I remembered that.
I remember pulling away, and my dad holding me in place, pulling me back to him. Abigail saw him do this, and she saw me about to make another run for it, and she stopped me with an upheld hand—fight on another day. Save it. And I did.
When everyone dissipated, we did too—walking silently home—and when we got home, the three of us each gathered an afghan and Father and I made a fire and we all watched Chopped.
That's what I remember about Ian's funeral.
Oh and one more thing: when I remembered greeting Ian in his coffin, I could not on my simple life picture the bird book in there with him.
Since that day I kind of developed a recurring dream.
I'm near a swimming pool, on the edge, and there's a dummy there, and I'm doing CPR on this dummy. And when I come up for air the dummy is Ian. And the pool is full, and it's raining, and everything is wet—I mean everything—my hands, my head, my bare feet.
I have that dream about once every three days.
I always wake up as I'm standing like Andy Dufresne from The Shawshank Redemption, arms outstretched, taking the rain. Ian, if you're out there, can you please release me from this dream? Send someone to replace it, squash it, make it go away.
I see myself running away, see myself homeless, see myself living on the road, on the run, and then, when I'm ready, I'll just crawl under something heavy and die.
Larry and Kevin find me out in front of the school at lunch. They get all up on me.
"Kill'd your little girlfriend?"
"I didn't kill him."
"Too bad we didn't come along with you. We could have killed both you faggots."
"Well. Yes. That's too bad."
"It is too bad, cow fucker!"
"Kevin. You're the only cow fucker here."
"Wha'd you say?"
"Or sheep or whatever you do."
"You lookin' to get your head knocked off."
They move closer. I try to step back: fence.
"Ain't nowhere to go, bro!"
"Ha ha ha."
"You know what I like about a faggot in LeRaysville?"
"What?" Larry says.
"Ain't nowhere for him to go, either. In big cities like New York there ain't nothin' you can do about a faggot on the loose: they's everywhere. But here..here. Here we can do something about it."
"Why would I shoot Ian if I'm also gay? It doesn't make any sense."
"It does make sense if that's what you wanted us to think. You know? In your twisted little faggot mind?"
"In my twisted little faggot mind..that's good. That's a good one. I'll have to keep that in mind for the future."
"You can keep it mind for now!" Kevin pushes me.
"Fine! I'll keep it in mind..for now!"
"Good. I don't like any faggots playin' all free on my playground! Want to keep you all rounded up so I don't end up getting shot in the back of the head. Are we clear?"
"Yeah we're clear. But—"
"But what motherfucker?"
"But. I was going to say—"
"What the fuck do you have to say right now?"
"I don't like being raided on the playground."
"Oh, you don't like this raiding on your playground? No?"
Kevin comes back and gets right in my face.
With every word he taps my chest: "I will raid your playground..any..time..I..like! Get used to it motherfucker. And put your guns away. Somebody's likely to get hurt up in here!"
Kevin, Larry—they go away right here. And at point, the bell rings. And I stand right where I am until most of the kids have gone in, and it's just the stragglers—loners like me who are smoking by the fence, with their black coats—piecemeal walking back to school.
She's walking home.
"I gotta talk to you. Great. Look. Have you heard anything about Ian? Like..is anyone saying anything or is there a slam book going around? I only ask because Kevin and Larry are pushing this angle where instead of me shooting Ian by accident, I shot him on purpose..right? That's crazy but that's what they're saying and I just wanted to know if you had any answers."
Abby stops waking. Her hand comes up—quick!—to my face and slaps me so hard I have to step back.
"That's for Ian!"
She slaps me again with the same hand: a backslap!!
"That's for thinking I'm an idiot. I know you shot him—ok? It's obvious! Now!"
She starts walking again.
"What do you want from me?"
"I don't know—I just thought—protection from Kevin and Larry? I'm not sure—"
"Well I can't offer protection from Kevin and Larry!"
"Maybe..you could forgive me!"
"I guess..see a priest," she says.
"Isn't your mom a priest?"
"She's a minister. There's like..Catholic..and then there's Protestant. Do not tell my mom about this. Do not. You've got an open secret which you do not want to turn into open fact. Do not tell my mom."
"Maybe you could like sit and pretend you're a priest—"
"I'm not gonna do that for you—I don't want to hear about it! Maybe you could tell it to a teddy bear or something. Do you have a teddy bear?"
"I might have an old one—"
"I was kidding! Holy hell. I was joking! Evan, you've got a major problem here—I can't fix it!"
"I know, ok! I just wanted someone to go through it with."
"Ok. I will go through it with you. But do not tell me about the actual killing—no details. Understood?"
"I'm serious, too. So what do we do now?"
"We go to my house and make a snack."
"What do you have?"
"Look who's picky now! We have Cheez-Its and peanut butter. Does that suit you?"
"I guess! I was hoping for some meat."
"Are you kidding me now?"
"You are killing me, Evan—absolutely killing my game."
"Maybe your mom—"
"Holy fucking hell! My game is destroyed now. Absolutely destroyed from the inside out. You're coming home with me and you're eating whatever I give you. Jesus Fucking Christ. Evil Jesus. McJesus!"
She's got me laughing now so she continues.
"Zombie Jesus! Disco Jesus! Republican Jesus! Sweet Smoking Jesus!"
"Did Jesus smoke?"
"I have no idea but it's not gonna stop me from the occasional cig."
"Can I smoke one with you?"
"Sure, copier. Copier copier cat. Sheezus."
"Do some more?"
"Sure, that works."
We're at her house now so we go in.
Inside Abby's room, I feel like I'm in Breathless, the middle part, where the two of them spend like an hour in her room—it has to be one of the greatest sequences ever in a movie.
Abby sits on her bed, and pats next to herself for me to sit down. I've been in here before, but it's been a while. Since then she's added a Melanie Martinez poster—and one of Lorde.
I don't have to worry about Abigail making a move on me—neither does she have to worry about me making a move on her—so we sit close on the bed and Abby runs her hands through my hair.
"You should clean this up."
"Ok. I will."
"Not that there's anything wrong with it. You just look terribly straight."
Abby takes a picture of me with her phone and shows it to me.
"Doesn't that look incredibly straight to you?"
"Well it looks straight to me."
"I have to—I have to look straight. They'll beat me up?"
"Kevin, Larry? They're probably afraid you'll shoot them."
"What if they shoot me?"
"Well I guess it's fair game."
"Since I shot Ian?"
"Since whatever. Since the day they were born. You know those guys are privileged—being straight—if they even are—"
"You think Kevin and Larry are gay?"
"No. But who knows. You'll never know."
"I just—in this town—I feel safer if I look a little straight."
"I understand. But Friday is different. Look gay—ok?"
"Look super gay."
"Like. Super gay."
"Ok! Sweet Jesus. I'll look super gay!"
Abby puts her hand on my knee.
"I'm going to measure your gayness on a scale from one to 10 and we're not leaving until you're at least an eight."
"Ok, but Abby. I need to tell you something."
"I'm your priest. Lie down with me."
We both lie longways on her bed, head on one pink pillow.
"Hit me with it, dudeski."
"I need you to take me seriously."
"Ok. So I'm not going to tell you about the killing but I feel guilty—"
"Ian, you did shoot someone in the head."
"Let me finish? I have these strange dreams. Like I'm on a ski lift and Ian is there, sitting next to me, and I look over and it's just his corpse, with crows in his eyes..it's just bones in his ski pants and I'm like—"
Abby has her phone out.
"Crows in the eyes..dream meaning..press search."
She clears her throat.
"Does it have red eyes?"
"Is it a baby?"
"Shush. If a crow scratches someone's face in a dream, it means dying from an illness or freezing to death from being lost in a forest during the winter. That's you—"
"There's one more: Will commit a crime and feel sorry or kill one's brother—"
"Does it really say that?"
"Fuck! That's like exactly what happened!"
"It's not exactly..but..you are fucked."
"Thanks. I'm so glad I came to you for help."
"You are welcome!"
"Abby seriously I'm going to go—"
"Nah, stay. We can watch that movie you're always telling me about. Look, Ian—you can go—or you can stay and we'll watch something and you can tell me your troubles. But..and I'm just saying..you have guilt, that's the problem. You're plagued by dreams. Can't sleep. That shit is going to be with you for a long, long time—whether you admit your wrongs to Ian's family or not—"
"I'm not going to admit my wrongs!"
"Then you take the consequences. Oldest trick in the book."
"I'm not going to admit my wrongs..am I?"
"I don't know."
"Do I have to?"
"If you want to change your dreams."
"I want to change my dreams but I don't want to go to jail doing it."
"It might not be that long..in jail. I mean..manslaughter..ten years?"
I must have had a horrible look on my face after that one because Abby was like:
"Why don't we watch TV?"
"You want to?"
"I want you to."
"Can we watch Mad Max: Fury Road?"
So Abby puts the movie on and I prop myself up against her wall, grabbing her bear (who is called Buster Bear) and holding him next to me—between us—and hoping on hope that Buster Bear would protect me like he did Abby every night: protect against that light that fell on her ceiling, reflected from the garage light outside her window and creating a ghostlike imagine on the top wall of her room.
Abby started Fury Road and read the text off the cover image.
"The future belongs to the Mad."
I think about what she might mean. Mad as in crazy: as in crazy to be gay in LeRaysville? Or as in: mad enough to kill somebody? Mad as that? Or maybe she meant nothing, and was just reading the text for no reason, and it just happened to prick in my brain and give me a snarl of thought to munch on.
I had a third dream and it popped into my head right then: It was me and Ian, doing parkour on the top of a building—I think in Paris—and I could only see what Ian could see through his head cam, and he was making all these risky moves and in his right hand he held the bird book and he was reading through their names like:
"White-rumped sandpiper! Buff-breasted sandpiper!"
And I was like, "Ian, watch your step, watch your step!"
And then I pushed him.
And of course he fell, and I could see him from my point of view as well as from his head cam and it was like I was looking at him falling—and I was him falling—all at the same time.
"Show me what you like."
Abigail shoved her phone at me.
It was on search.
I typed: "Guys taking care of themselves with sleeves."
And handed it to Abigail.
She pressed the looking-glass icon.
And we were down a tunnel.
"Wow, I didn't know you liked sleeves."
"I like sleeves. What can I say? Do you like them?"
"Sure. Do you have any? No? You should get some!"
"I can't—my mom searches like all my drawers."
"You need to learn how to hide things. Toys and such. Think like the CIA. You didn't mean to kill that boy, did you?"
"Yeah. I told you. I did."
"It's just..I don't believe you. Not exactly. You can kill someone accidentally with intention..there could be an intention without the plan to kill—"
"You're trying to see it in your positive light, Abby."
"You are. I killed him. And I meant to."
"But hear me: isn't there part of you that didn't want to kill him? And to the extent that there is, wasn't it really an accident?"
"Stop. Play that one."
Abigail presses play.
"I love how it makes me think he's taking such good care of his body," I say. "Look at him."
We sit in silence with the sound of this man making love to himself—and cumming. Abigail turns the volume down for her mom.
"Look at all that cum!"
"I know. Do you always search solos?"
"No. Sometimes I search for young boys getting each other off."
"How young—like kids?"
"You can go to jail for that!"
"Show me on your phone," Abby says.
I take it out, unlock it. Type: "Two young boys jerk each other off."
The screen fills with icons. I select one.
Two 13-ish boys are on a carpet. Chair on one side, pillows on the other. They're dressed in jeans, which one peels off the other. You can see massive boners in each of their pants. One starts to suck the other's dick.
"Eww!" Abby says. "Turn it off!"
She grabs my hand.
"No. Don't. Let it run."
So I let it run. This one's technique shows how lovingly he's operating his friend's dick—how he knows exactly what to press, and suck, and when.
"Do you touch yourself when you watch these videos?"
"Duh! Want me to show you?"
"No! Do you..imagine yourself as one or other of the boys?"
"..Yeah. I do. I usually imagine myself as the sub. The bottom."
"Have you ever had your ass fucked?"
"Have you ever been on top? With a guy or a girl or anyone?"
"No, I haven't. Have you?"
"Yeah. I mean it's different for girls. But I have been with girls before. And guys. I just don't..favor..the guys. But the first person I was with was a guy."
"His name was Matt. It was before I moved here."
"What did you do with him?"
"I fucked him. What do you think?"
"Was it gross?"
"It wasn't gross. It was..forensic."
"Did you cum?"
"No, I didn't."
Abby stops. She looks at me.
"Would you have cum? Inside of me? If I was the first one you fucked?"
"Wait. Was he gay?"
"I don't know."
"But there's a chance?"
"There's always that chance! Stop stalling. And I'm not about to fuck you but..would you..have cum..inside of me..if I was the first one you fucked?"
I shake my head.
"Forget it. It was largely theoretical. I see your bulge. Do you want me to leave so you can get off?"
I look at the 13 year olds: one bent over, jerking his dick off. The other kneeling behind him, jerking his dick off on the other guy's asshole. Cum squirts, and he circles the one guy's hole, filling his ass crack with cum.
I look down and discover that Abigail has been holding my hand. I take it back.
"This is definitely illegal," Abby says.
"Yeah, but who does it hurt?"
"The two boys!"
"Only if they wouldn't have had sex in the first place."
"They only do it for the money. You're not worried about getting arrested?"
"I guess not," I say. "I mean who's gonna arrest me—Connor? He's trying to sell me crystal when he's at my house earlier!"
"The FBI? Wait what? Connor's selling you..crystal?"
"Yeah! Dude is pulling out plastic bags while he's at my house taking my statement on Ian! He's deep into it. If that's who's gonna arrest me, I think I've got this covered."
"It's the FBI who's gonna arrest you. They've got sting operations set up all the time. Find some boy who wants to have sex with an underage girl or guy. The guy is usually a pillar of the community. Etcetera. Haven't you ever seen Dateline?"
I shake my head.
"Well, get on the web. Check it out. Watch some family dad who thinks he's about to fuck some virgin get stingoed by Lester Holt when he walks in the door."
"I don't know about it," I say.
"That shit'll happen to you," Abigail says.
"Do they do children?"
"They do anybody."
"They do anybody! It doesn't matter how old you are. It matters how old the people in the pictures are..the media. If you're 15 and you have bathtub pictures of your niece..watch out."
I close my browser window. Put my phone down.
"I don't have a niece."
"See that you don't," my friend says. "You're better off keeping porn pictures under your bed from magazines—"
"But what about my mom?"
"Try keeping 'em between the mattresses—think CIA. Or jerk off to stuff that's in your head. It's tough—I know—to have to jerk off to people that are older than you. But you have to try."
"So tell me where we're going."
"Never Never Land."
"Never Never Land?"
"Never Never Land!"
"So what's it like?"
"It's like..Never Never Land! No, look, it's like..a play place! For people like us! From towns, from boroughs..for people from around the area..to come..together..!"
"Why are you smiling?"
"..to come together..!..in a family way—not a family way but the family way of things!"
"What does that mean?" I say, jumping on Abby's bed.
"It means..acceptance..tolerance—and not complete tolerance but..tolerance..somewhat—"
"Well you have to be careful. I mean people's people, you know—you have to be careful around people. But..within a certain realm..tolerance, acceptance, yes!"
"Stop!!!" Abby hits me. She's kneeling on her bed before me.
"Tell me more!"
"Ok! Well. Well! When you walk in, there's a place where they take your coats and a place where you pay your money and it's like eight dollars I think or 10 dollars it might be 15 dollars but no more than that..I don't think..anyway I can't remember but past that there's a bar to the left and a bar to the right and there's a stairway going upstairs to a whole 'nother bar and in the middle there's people dancing and..a whole lot of dancing..lots and lots of dancing and around the outside, beyond the bars, are there circular tables up against the window with shades over the window and your back to the shades and you might get a table and sit with some friends—"
"Are we going with friends?"
"You're going with me!"
"Right. So. We might be with our backs up against the window, drinking drinks, and this girl is there with her shoulders—into it, into it—dancing with her shoulders, coming closer, closer, close to you and me."
I'm looking at Abby, almost drooling.
"And then, your guy comes to you—and he's dancing up—up!—up!!—right up on you!"
Abby dances up to me on the bed.
"And you give me a look," she says. "And you're like..click!" (she makes the noise with her mouth) (she makes me check! with the imaginary gun in her hand) "and I'm all—" (Abby winks at me) "and you're all—" (I wink!) "and we're all: boom boom boom! Boom boom boom!! I said: boom boom boom!!! And that's pretty much what Never Never Land is like, Holmes. A little more schlitz and a little less pizazz, but..you know.."
"Are there really guys for me?"
"Yes, there really are. Every night you go, there will be a guy for you."
"At least one."
"And there are girls for you?"
"Yes, every night..girls for me."
"And you've been there before?"
"A few times."
"A few, I don't know, 12."
"Twelve! Is that an exact number?"
"It's not exact..no. It's ballpark, you know—god damn!"
Abby and I sit face to face on her bed.
"Can we take them home?"
"Ehh..well..if they have homes and they want to take us.. But..ahh..I don't know I'm still figuring this out. Can we take them home..uh..no..but there's the car!"
"True. The car. Huh. I see," I say. "I see."
"We'll figure it out when we get there. First things first you know. I did have a girl I was seeing there for a while."
"Did you do her?"
"I don't know what you call it with two girls."
"You call it fuck. Did I fuck her, is I think what you mean."
"Of course I did!!"
"What's her name?"
"Amber..Abigail..two As..it could work—"
"It fucking did work!"
"Did you cum?"
"None of your fucking business..yes!"
"Oh fuck. Oh..fuck. Do you think this is a little aimless, setting up matches in our heads..this..I mean..what we're doing here. Fantasizing in our heads. It's just imagination. We're—we're—"
"No," Abby says. "No. We're living out an approximation of what might happen if we go to Never Never Land. Nothing wrong with that! And if you mean in a broader sense..planning what it would be like to cum with someone of our interest..no. Nothing wrong with that at all. That's what people of the human race do..we have to do that to proffer the species—"
"I don't know! I don't know man!"
"But we're gay—we're not proffering anything!"
"It may not be proffer. It might be..further?..father? Anyway it doesn't matter. We'll leave biology to itself. But we're here to visualize the person we'd like to cum with and to go and find them and fuck them and love them for our very own! What happens to the species..to the planet..who cares. Who cares! Evan: we're here to be happy! To proffer. To find the piece of meat we want to be with and be with them! That's what I want—do you? Last week—is last week! Forget about it. Forget about it! Do you want to spend the rest of your life thinking about Ian? You said you wanted counseling so let me counsel you: move on! Move on, my friend—move on. Come with me to Never Never, get laid—forget about Ian, drink some drinks—is that the advice you expected? And from a pastor's kid? You may come to find, my friendy-friend, that pastor's kids are the most dangerous people you can come to know: crazy (for sure), amoral (undoubtedly), and totally insane! Come with me, come with me, to a Never Never Land—a place of frolic and fun, that you may never return from! A land of lost boys, witches, and pirates—"
And at this point Abigail landed on her bed with her head between my legs and asked me to get her water—which I did.
Then I walked her downstairs (also at her request) and we faced her mother in the living room.
"I got overheated again."
"Ok. Sit down. Me and Evan will cool you."
Abby took her seat in one of the two recliners and I took mine on the couch.
"Evan you can make some hot chocolate if you want."
"Thank you Miss Temple."
"The mix is on the counter."
"Thank you Miss Temple."
"You can stop calling me Miss Temple."
"Ok—Sharon—I think I will make hot chocolate."
I went into the kitchen and found a mug. Abby and her mother's voices came in from the living room.
"I want you to think of this moment..and think of what happened to get you in this state..and make that not happen."
Time for Abby to nod.
"How is Evan..since."
"He's pretty good. He's coming with me to Never Never Land on Friday."
"What's the weather?"
Time for Abby to shrug.
"Check the weather. Is he getting in trouble at school?"
"When are we not getting in trouble. I mean the band kids—I mean the cool kids—they're on Evan as much as they are me."
"I wish that people would learn to accept..how..people are."
"Why do you wish that?"
"Because some day.."
"They'll find out their kid is gay?"
"Yeah. You know that family—the Myers—that go to our church?"
"You know that kid they adopted?"
"The Chinese baby?"
"Yes, the Chinese baby. After they adopted it they found out it had—it has—intersexed parts."
"Oh. That explains a lot."
"Yes it does! I'm just saying..a lot of people have..these types of situations..closer to home."
"Right, right—I see. Is that why—the dad—?"
"Right—Peter—fuckin' yells at that baby? Have you heard that?"
"Yes. I have."
I walk back into the living room with my fresh hot chocolate. Sit on the couch.
"We're watching Chopped," Abby's mom says. "If you want something else, then wait till the end of the show and pick it."
"No, no," I say.
"Chopped is fine," Abby says.
"Ted Allen is great," Abby's mom says. "He's my future husband."
"Ted Allen is gay," Abby says.
"All the better," Sharon says. "I already have the reputation of a fag hag."
"You are a fucking fag hag, Mom."
"As I say—so I've heard," Sharon says.
Abby shakes her head. She looks at me.
"Mom has been a fag hag since Ohio. What was that that Joey taught you?"
"Be the star of your own life."
"Right—I love that!" Abby says. "But is that what he said—or someone else?"
Sharon says: "I think it's Dr Phil."
Abby clicks furiously at her device.
"It's not Dr Phil," she says.
"No. It's from everybody. I'd hate to credit Dr Phil with something someone else said. Seems like a waste."
"It is a waste," I say, giving Abby a high five.
"Ok, you two! I'm not 100% cool with everything Dr Phil does, but—"
"What about what he did to Britney Spears?" Abby says.
"What did he do to her?"
"He fucking showed up at her inpatient facility with a camera crew! Fucker!! And they turned him away, like, he's not your doctor!"
"Hey. Hey. Cool it, dear."
"Yeah ok just saying Dr Phil isn't exactly cool with the bipolar community."
"That deformity aside, I like him," Sharon says.
"That's a major fucking deformity."
"Abby. Please. Language."
"I'm sorry but it gets me angry."
"I think you need to look at life through a bipolar lens instead of as a political activist more of the time—getting angry—it isn't good for you."
"It's better than living without."
"Maybe. May-be, Abby, but consider why you came down here—"
"You said you had overheated or something—"
"Yes, I had. I had—"
"So remember that!"
Abby gives her mother the look. She stands, dropping an afghan on the chair.
"I'll be back—after I get my hot chocolate. You two—better not say anything interesting without me."
Abby leaves the room, turning in the doorway to give us a little toodledoo. When she's gone, Abby's mom says:
"So did you like 'im?"
I swallow my drink.
"What did you like about him?"
I shake my head.
"Many things. Like. His hair. And. His smell."
"Do you miss 'im?"
I make eye contact with Abby's mom.
"But. It wasn't a mistake. I think you know that."
Sharon sips her tea.
"I might know a great many things, Evan—that doesn't mean I will tell them to anybody."
"Is it like a client/attorney privacy agreement?"
"Sort of. Maybe stronger."
"So I can tell you anything I want?"
"If you want."
"And you won't tell anybody?"
"You know that Abby is in the next room. Other than her—probably not."
"If you're about to commit a crime, I am required by law to tell someone. Other than that—no."
"Even if I've already committed the crime?"
"In that case, too."
I look to the kitchen doorway—knowing Abigail is right in there making her hot chocolate listening to every word we say.
"I keep having this dream," I say. "And it takes place in Alabama—some small town. The dream has two parts: one takes place with Anna—Price? You know her?—and the second part takes place with some new girl, that I don't know, but she's colored—like half black? And in the first part, it's sexual—but we don't have sex—but it's like it's always there, threatening in the air—and when I swing over the roof, Anna squeezes my arm so hard. And the second part, with the half-black girl, is like I got so drunk that Connor—"
"The police officer?"
"Yes, Connor the police officer is offering to sell me meth and somehow I'm so consumed with this new decaling set for my laptop that I don't take him up on it—but that turns out to be a deal—a setup—and the only two people to buy it are Larry and Kevin. And it's like a class trip to Mexico except those two are arrested and sent to jail and the town restaurant is so slow that you can sit for hours waiting for your server to show up—and then—and—"
I'm leaned over the edge of the couch, hot chocolate dripping on the floor.
Abby comes in.
"You two alright?" she says.
And she sits down.
"We're perfectly alright," says Abby's mom.
"Then what are you so worked up about?"
Abby wipes the floor in front of me clean.
"Evan was just telling me his dreams," Sharon says, standing and looking over a bookshelf. "Do you want interpretation?"
"Oh like in symbols and stuff?"
"Yes. First. The police."
Sharon flips through pages of a book I can most clearly see is titled: Dream Analysis Provider.
"Police. Police. Here we are."
Sharon hands me the book and I read:
"Bad behavior..feeling guilty..doing something wrong?"
"Pick the one that best fits."
"Uh..breaking the rules?"
"What does that one say?"
I adjust the book.
"Rules apply in many informal settings and these are often 'policed' in a vigorous way. Think of a group of girls who all go out together. One might be shunned by the others if she does not fit in properly by wearing the right make up and clothes."
I hand the book back to Sharon.
She hands me another one, already turned to the right page.
"Police in a dream may represent law, rules, authority or control. May be a reminder to you to curb your reckless behavior or to control your desires. May be reminding you to do the right thing. Dreams about police may also represent your own sense of morality and your conscience, reminding you to stay on the right path. Ugh."
"Except the part about Connor isn't a dream," Abby says.
"No, it's not."
Sharon says: "The police officer..Connor..is selling you meth."
"He's trying to!" I say.
"That's..interesting," Sharon says.
She hands me a third dream interpretation book and I flip through it.
"This is better," I say.
Sharon sits back in her chair.
"Just understand," she says, "that if you have a dream, and I somehow had the same dream, they would mean different things. Your dream might terrify you, but it might be a joke to me."
"I get it."
"But do you," Abigail says.
I look up at her, startled.
"Just kidding—just kidding!" she says. "Do your dream interpreter thing. I'll just sit here."
"I think we're almost done," her mother says.
I'm still staring at Abby—shocked.
"I think I had that dream because Connor quite literally tried to sell me drugs when he was questioning me about Ian—was that a dream?"
"No," Abby says. "Connor sells drugs."
"To who?" Abby's mom says.
"To the school kids!" Abby says.
Sharon shakes her head. She gets up to get another drink.
Abby sits next to me on the couch—flips a page of my book.
"You know," she says, "life would be a lot easier here if you were straight."
She grabs my leg and leans over for a kiss.
I pull away.
"I know," she says. "Sadly—you're only gay."
"And you're bi?"
"I prefer 'queer.' But no, I'm not only gay."
"And you were going to have me stay over?"
Abby rolls her eyes and goes back to her chair.
"I was gonna ask you—you can sleep down here—it was just a thought—don't get all weirded out, ok?"
"I'm not—weirded out—I'm—I guess I am weirded out."
"Sorry! I'm sorry, boo. I'm just testing the waters with you—see what I can do with you."
"So have you done it with—guys?"
Abby nods a tiny nod. "Mmm-hmm!"
"How long till you knew you were bi?"
"Well I tried it with—guys—and I liked it. And I tried it with girls, and I liked that too."
"How come I never knew this?"
"I don't know! The whole town knows. You're a little bit clueless, Ev."
"What do you mean the whole town knows?"
"All the problems..that my mom's been having? Straight-up death threats? The burning message on the lawn? No one told you about that?"
I shake my head.
"Well of course. They wouldn't. It's 'cause they know you're gay. They're trying to protect you."
"What's up with the burning message in the lawn?"
"Some people left a burning message in the lawn."
"What like a cross?"
"No. Like 'faggot' in huge letters—burning..in..the..lawn."
"I expect so, since I'm the only faggot living here!"
"Grief, Abby—I'm sorry."
"They've harassed Mom at church—thrown eggs—you don't come to church so you don't know about these things but this community has a real problem with me—and specially with me being Sharon's kid and Sharon being the pastor.."
"I get it. Yikes. I get it."
"You've always lived here, so maybe you don't know. But there's a big world outside LeRaysville where people don't give a shit whether you're straight or gay or queer or whatever. That's why I want to take you to Never Never because you can't grow up like this, Evan—you can't. There's like..a world of people not caring what you do or who you do it with. And a world of people supporting you even though you're different. I want to take you there—most of all—so that you see you don't have to do what you did to Ian—to anyone—ever."
I looked at Abby and knew her mom could hear us from the kitchen.
"I want to go there," I say.
"It's late," she says. "Do you want to stay over?"
"Yes," I say.
And she says: "I'll get you a blanket."
Abby and I sat or laid downstairs for a few hours. It was 2am by the time she went upstairs to bed.
I laid on the couch and she laid/sat on her recliner.
This is what we said:
"People threw eggs?"
"That was just the beginning of it. They prevented me from being in the school play? Because I was queer? Isn't that an odd thought—to prevent someone from being in the theatre—because they're gay? So that's an experience I'll never have. Fortunately I got to have my theatre career in another city—in Dayton—Ohio. There I was the star of the school. Here I'm queer so I'm..nothing."
She whispered this last part.
"Are you gonna go to college?" I ask.
"Yeah. Somewhere far away from here."
"I'm staying here."
"Working on your dad's farm?"
"Yeah or something."
"That's never going to work for you. Evan. I'm sorry..no."
"What should I do?"
"Get on a bus..to fucking..California. Never look back."
"I could do that.."
"Do it. Evan. What happened last week is—among other things—a symptom that you should go. Go! If you stay here—"
"You think it'll happen again?"
"I just think it's a bad sign. It's an omen. It'll happen again or..who knows?..next time it might be you on the other end of that gun. There's an open season every year. Where are you gonna be on the next one?"
"I'm not going hunting with anyone."
"Yeah but..how far does that go? What about with your dad?"
"He would never do that to me."
"Are you sure though? How sure do you wanna be with something like that? And it's not just who you go hunting with—it's everyone in town, wherever you go. In a school bathroom. In the theatre, in the school. Walking on any street..if it's a rifle, who can say? You could become prey to Kevin, Larry, or any one of these motherfuckers with a gun. Which—let me remind you—is every motherfucker up in here!"
"Do you have a gun?"
"No. People tried to push Mom to buy one when she got here. But we're gun free, yes."
"Do you ever wish you had one?"
"Never have," Abby shakes.
"What if a bear comes to your door."
"The door is locked. If you show me a bear that can come through a locked door..I'll get a gun."
"It's true," Abby says. "The only thing people do with guns is kill themselves."
"That's not true."
"That's true—yes," Abby says. "Look it up."
"Can your mom hear us upstairs?"
"Not if we whisper."
So I whisper: "Do you think it would be ok if I fucked you..before Friday?"
"Ass or puss?" she says.
"Ass I guess."
But Abby says: "No, I don't think it would be a good idea for you to practice on me. I'm sorry if I indicated so earlier."
"It's ok I just don't wanna get there and have no idea what to do."
"I'm sure it'll be no problem," Abby says.
"Yeah," Abby says. "Drop trou. Spread cheeks. Stick it in."
"Bend over, lubricate with fingers—couple more things for luck—kiss his neck, rub his back and then—BAM!!—rack that motherfucker up his ass!!!"
Abigail cracks herself up.
"It's real funny to you—to watch me in my ignorance."
"It could be funnier if you..like..acted shit out for me."
"Ha ha. You know I don't need a critic—I need a guide."
"Get your guide elsewhere, Toto. Time for moi to sleep."
Abby rolled over in her chair. Her back was to me and I could see her bra strap and panties.
"Why don't I care?" I said, whispering.
" 'Bout what," came Abby's reply.
"About girls," I said.
"It's just wiring—it doesn't mean anything," she slurred.
"What are you talking to?"
"I mean, it's like..this is no big deal in New York. It's no big deal in LA. It was no big deal to the Greeks, for goddamn."
"What about the Greeks now?"
"The Greeks! They had homosexuality in their schools. Haven't you heard of Socrates?"
"Yeah but not to that level."
"Well Socrato was a big buttfucker. Him and Plato-likes be corruptin' the minds of the Athenian youth, fool! But the real reason they killed him?"
"Socrates didn't believe in the right gods—the state gods. That's what you and I are imprisoned for here: these backwoods ignoramuses think we're outside of what god wants—of god's realm. It's not the church people who complain about me and my mom—it's the neighborhood people, the people who live right around us all and don't even go to church: they're harassing Mom at work and me at school calling on a god they don't even believe in! Meanwhile the people in that church don't give a flying fuck what I am or my mom is."
"Which is what?"
"A single woman! They think she must be gay if she's single!! An unmarried woman! That's the crime of the ages—believe that. And you know what she does?—She never says a thing. She never admits to anything, she never denies anything. She fucking backs me up in this whole situation and it's going to cost her her job, her place to live, her friends.."
"Is she gay?"
"Hell no. She barely understands me. She's single—used to be married to my dad. That's all she has to say to them—and they'd leave her alone. They don't really care if I'm gay—they care about my mom. A school kid who's gay: we can handle that. Kid gets out of line, send 'em hunting on the first day of deer season—that problem takes care of itself. But a pastor they think is gay..that just doesn't fit with what they think are their state-sponsored gods—who refuses to deny what they say about her?—Well that's a Jesus power move (refusing to deny what people say about you) and that's a human social power move: to ignore people who are fighting you? I'm sorry but I can't sleep down here—my bed's too comfortable. Will you be alright?"
"Yes," I said.
And Abby went upstairs to bed.
We woke the next day, went to school, endured, came home, and Abby and I were back in her room, getting ready for Never Never Land.
"How late can we stay?"
"Last call's at 2am."
"Won't your mom care?"
"As long as I tell her when I'm going to be back, it's ok."
"Sorry, I'm new at this—going out."
Abby looks at me in the mirror. She turns me around and goes to work on my tie.
"Are you sure you need this?"
"My tie? Fuck—I want to look professional."
"You definitely look..professional."
"Good. That's how I want to look."
"Well that's how you look."
"Abby! Let me be myself."
"That's fine, as long as you're Mr. Pink."
Abby straightens my tie, smooths it down.
"Thanks, brah. You know what I'm gonna find tonight?"
"What. Are you gonna find."
"A straight-laced college boy..well dressed..lookin' like he just got outta church."
"You will find that."
"Yes. Sir. College boy is on the list."
"What are you gonna find?"
"Well hopefully who I'm not going to find..is Candi."
"Is she your girlfriend?"
"At the moment..but she keeps abusing me..so that's why I'm hoping not to find Candi at Never Never Land."
"Does she go without you?"
"You and Candi—really?"
"We keep it low-key at school."
"But—really—she's majorly emotionally abusing me: she calls me all the time, she's dating this guy that I liked from the club, her language is filled with subtext."
"Like..imagine a bitch. Then paste Candi's face on it. Then squeeze her to talk. Fucking bitch is on my last nerve."
"But what exactly does she say?"
"I don't remember—ok? Just imagine the bitchiest bitch of them all then paste Candi's face on it then press play!"
"Ok. Ok. I'm sorry."
"It's ok," Abby says.
Then we're both in her full-length mirror straightening our hair: Abby with a brush, me with a comb, squirting product on our hands and working it in—we were stallions, horses of a different breed, but with similar intent—doomed to carnal pleasures—!
Abby finishes her hair. I see her in the mirror and the room is filled with the smell of hairspray.
"Look, bozo," Abby says. "I didn't mean to be short with you on the subject of my girlfriend..it's just a tough situation. She's abusing me and I'm letting her—ok?—I'm letting her! It's just a hard situation. Every time she does something, I'm like: ahhhhh!! But it's the comfort—you know?—that comfort of having someone and being needed and going home knowing that there's someone familiar in your bed."
"I get you, Abs—I get you."
"Well get your show horse ready to rumble. I gotta go to the bathroom. Do girl things."
Abby left me staring in her mirror, at myself, talking to myself inside my head:
There's a Mr. Handsome, I said.
There's Someone Who's Going to Get Laid.
That's someone who looks and smells fresh.
Surely to attract Whatever He Wants or Whoever He Wants.
With Arm Candy—Abigail.
What if I were straight—would I be attracted to Abigail?
Would we fuck?
Isn't it nice to have a gay girl as your friend.
Imagine there are people who like the smell of puss.
Who stick their face in it and love it.
Abby is one of those people.
Pussy is like a rodent.
Cock is tight. And hard. And willing to go up my ass—
"Are you talking to yourself?"
"Yeah. Pep talk."
"Get your jacket, let's go."
Abby waited for me to shut down my conversation with the mirror—stood at her door and turned off the light when I left—and followed me downstairs.
I waited in the kitchen while Abigail spoke with her mother.
Then Abby and I trotted downhill to Abby's garage.
Abby started the car and lit a cigarette. We stood outside while everything warmed up.
Abby bit the tip of her Kamel. She said: "Are you nervous?"
"It's ok if you are."
"It's not as much nervousness as it is fear of the unknown," I said.
"That's nervousness. It's ok. I was nervous my first time, too."
"Your first time what?"
"Going to Never Never Land."
"Oh. Yeah. This whole trip makes me nervous, to be honest."
"You don't have to do anything. We'll get a booth. If you want, you can sit in the booth all night and drink. You don't even have to drink. This is low pressure—total chill. Just be my wingman."
"I'm your wingman? Pshfff."
"We're each other's wingman."
"Ok, Abby. Just drive before I ask you to take me home."
"You're not going home."
And somehow, after everything, the thought of home reminded me of Ian's home, tonight—how quiet it would have been, what his parents were thinking.
And I saw myself as some kind of champion—as if Ian and I had been residents of the Mad Max universe and all I had done was kill him in some sort of game.
And I knew that was wrong—it was more than a game—but I liked that image so well that I went with it.
"Ret to go?" Abby said, flicking her cig into a corner trash can.
"I'm ready," I say, and I open the door and get into Abby's car.
I slam the door—adjust my side mirrors, steering wheel slant—I always have to do this after Mom has been driving.
"Seatbelt," I say.
"You're fuckin' me," Evan says.
"Nope. Gotta wear a seatbelt when you're in my car."
Evan goes for his.
"Them's the rules. I don't want you to die in an accident caused by me and then I would have caused your death—"
"Yeah, yeah—I get it. Are you happy now, den mother?"
"Extremely," I say, and I press the garage door button.
While driving we pass the Amish cheese factory—lights always on—a few cars in the small parking lot.
"Did you know that that factory isn't even owned by Amish people anymore?"
"What? That's exactly what Ian said."
"Well Ian was right."
"When did this happen?"
"About a year ago."
"How can I not know this? How do you know this?"
"They bought it on the d/l, didn't tell the papers. The only people who knew it changed hands were some of the people who worked there. And they kept the same name—that's the biggest part of it. Whenever you refer to it you always say, 'Amish Cheese Factory'—that's half the secret, right there."
"But how do you know?"
"But how does she know?"
"She has connections."
"Like at the cheese factory?"
"I can't really say, but..she reads a lot on the internet."
"That's not the same as having connections."
"It could be," I say—decisively, and I close the conversation.
I drive us through the hills, watching for deer. It takes about an hour to get to Binghamton. Evan fiddles with the locks, opens the window a crack, then opens my glove compartment.
"What's this?" he says, pulling out Ian's bird book. "What is this doing here?"
"Musta thrown it in here earlier this week."
Evan is bracing himself into the car with one hand on the overhead handle, the book hand on the dash.
"Are you trying to haunt me?"
"I'm not haunting anybody. It's just a book. I liked the cover. I thought I might learn some birds or something."
"You didn't put this here for me to find?"
"Evan. I didn't do anything for you to find. It's a book in the glove compartment that you happened to open..that you happened to find!"
"It's Ian's book," Evan says.
"You put Ian's book in the glove compartment of your car..where you knew I would be sitting."
"It's just a coincidence..chill."
"Where you knew I would be sitting!" he says, shaking the book at me.
"Dude. You need to chill. In particular, don't shake that book at me while I'm driving."
Evan relaxes his stance.
"Hand me that book."
He does, and I slip it under my left leg.
"Perfect. Situation resolved. Forget it ever happened."
Evan is silent, staring straight forward. After a few minutes he says:
"I just have trouble believing that was a coincidence."
"Well believe it—'cause it was."
"Why is it in here? Were you doing some bird watching from your car?"
"Don't worry about what I was doing!"
And, after that, we were quiet for a long time.
I went up the hills, quieting my brights at their tops, turning them back on when I could see there was no one there. Eventually, we were back in lighted areas and the highways and roads of Binghamton. This was where we went to buy groceries—so we didn't go to buy groceries very often.
I drove to Never Never Land.
Parked in the back lot.
Was about to get out when I saw Evan wasn't moving.
"Buddy buddy. You pissed at me?"
Evan took his time turning my direction.
"It's not that I'm pissed. I just don't understand. I cannot comprehend why that book was—right here—in the glove compartment—right in front of my face. You have your story—it doesn't add up but it's your story. I respect that—I guess. But I think we need to do something about that book—like throw it away—'cause I just don't want it floating around my world from here on out—"
"If you never went in my glove compartment it wouldn't be in your world, first of all—"
"Will you please let me finish," Evan said. "Thank you. Can you agree to that? If I hadn't killed him you would never have had that book, so in my mind the book rightly belongs to me."
"Are you a bird watcher?" I ask.
"Look, don't hit me with any of that Quentin Tarantino shit."
"I'm not. Are you a bird watcher?"
"I am not a bird watcher," Evan says.
"Well I am," I say. "And that makes me think the book is rightly mine."
"I never knew you to be a bird watcher," Evan says.
"Well I am. I am. That's all you need to know. I'm gonna keep this book with me, over here, on my side of the car. You don't have to look at it. You don't need to be haunted by it. All you need to know is it's taken care of. Ok? It's taken care of!"
Evan gives this disgruntled, powerless look and finally says:
I slap Evan on the leg.
"Now let's go get us some pussy."
He looks at me.
"And dick," I say.
Evan says: "There better be cute guys in there."
"Don't worry. There are. Now get out of the car, you fucking faggot."
Evan looks at me and shakes his head. But he gets out of the car. And he slams the door. And he and I go for the front door, my arm inside Evan's, me wearing a little black dress with a black trench coat—my hair stretched back—Evan wearing his slacks and tie, shiny shoes—like we were going into a speakeasy in the days of prohibition. And we passed a group of boys on the side of the dance club who were smoking—something (not cigarettes)—and laughing it up to the stars. And I hoped—for Evan's sake—that he would find mystery in here—something compelling and new—so that the killing would stop.
Inside—it was madhouse. Inside it was insane.
I followed Evan's eyes to see what he would see: group of boys standing tall—mirror to the ones we saw outside—smoking—were they the same, transported here from outside past Evan and I—somehow—set up in here to catch our eyes again. I saw this girl, that girl, winking fast at me in the strobe light—imagined?—I think not. Hot girl of myself—thinking of herself—thinking big and big and bigger of the night's possibility. It could end up fucking in a toilet stall—two girls, two boys—making the irony of single-sex bathrooms.
Inside, it was miracles—miracles of light—of sound—of drink—of tone—of dizziness—of darkness—of touching—of lust and curiosity—of dancing—of bodies—of fright!
In we went! Totaling that curiosity, tempered with freedom, with objectification. Totaling the dark tones. Spying between people to see other people, back in dusty corners, twos and threes, people who knew each other, who came together, who ride together and die together and get high together and fly together.
I grab Evan's hand and walk with him to a corner booth—this one is labeled, "For Lovers."
I sit Evan down and I get in the other side.
I watch Evan's face—it is glorious—seeing the delight in him likened to a kid watching the festival that just came to town. I could see in him the reflection of the Ferris wheel, of passersby, of children holding candy, bugging their parents for more. Of teenagers on dates holding hands—touching each other's legs and asses and grabbing each other's faces to kiss—to neck—to lie together later secretly in one of their bedrooms, avoiding detection, going almost all the way.
And in his face I saw the reflection of something sinister—something deader than Ian—something I couldn't make out, but something I didn't want to get to know better.
His eyes were swirls of the sky, yellow storms boiling in sulfur. Shenanigans were forming in him, too dark to invite back into your home. He watched the people before us but what he saw was not what I saw—and I was scared.
For in Evan there was something missing—something that would stop a man from killing. It was like the rest of us—outside Evan's skull—weren't worth much. Like he wouldn't miss us if we were gone. And naturally this scared me—for (according to the videos I'd seen)—people like Evan weren't able to change. What was missing in him could never grow in later. And the rest of us had to—quite literally—survive knowing him.
"So what do you think?" I yelled.
"It's fine!" Evan said, then turned back to the sea of bodies.
"You want a drink?" I said.
"Sure," Evan said.
"Well figure out what you want—a waitress comes by."
"Can I go dance?"
"You can do whatever you want—I'm not the dance police."
Evan puts his wallet on the table.
"Will you get me a whiskey sour?"
I take his wallet and he gets up, turning to check with me before he disappears. Giving him a thumbs up seems excessive, so I hold it. Evan is gone and back and gone again—so natural—dancing with a boy dressed in club clothes (yellow pocket pants and an orange shirt to match)—dancing with a boy who is dressed like him (shirt and tie)—dancing a bit with a girl (plaid jumper, white shirt, white stockings)—until he came back to me (elated).
"Dude! This is amazing!!"
"I'm glad you think so. Do you recognize anyone here?"
Evan shakes his head.
"Sit down a bit, with me," I say.
I cover his hands with mine.
"So," I say. "Never forget who took you to Never Land."
"I will remember it always, Abbs. Always and forever."
"Good boy! Now I'm gonna get my dance on and you wait here for the drinks. I want a gin and tonic—alright?"
Evan nods and I leave him in the booth ("For Lovers") hoping he'll be there when I return. I crawl across the floor, arms raised, fingers splayed, ignoring every advance, true to myself—and I exhale bigly. I love this dance floor, almost as much as when I first saw it—laser lights and strobes and bubbles and hot hot ass—much hotter than in LeRaysville. LeRaysville was death to me—if I stayed there after high school I would slowly die, as every resident of LeRaysville does—growing old listening to police scanners at dinner, serving on the first responder team, working as a school teacher or maybe in the non-Amish cheese factory.
I turned and walked backward, spying Evan through the crowds. The waitress was there with him, sitting next to him in the booth, and they were discussing intimately. The waitress held a menu that had been on the table, where they both could see, and they both pointed and stared at the drink options. Evan asks her a question—her head pops up from the menu and asks him a question back. She laughs, and they go on like this. I decide everything is fine, turn, and continue my dance/walk to the bathroom.
I lock myself inside a stall, sit, and cry.
I know why this is: it's Candi. Candi, my old friend, my girlfriend, who I met at school and took to Never Never. We were fine at first and then: I found out she was doing drugs (like: via Connor). She turned from being extremely romantic and shit (which I liked) to being extremely aggressive and abusive (which I did not like) and she turned out to be one of those people who—once they get to know you—treat you real mean.
Coming back to the table, I saw Evan had the drinks: a whiskey sour for him and something that didn't look like a gin and tonic to me.
"What is that?"
"They're out of gin."
"No they are not out of gin—what is that?"
"It's..a redheaded slut. Aka a ginger bitch. It's got Jäger, schnapps, Crown Royal, cran vodka."
"Why didn't you just get me what I ordered?"
Evan shrugs and sips his whiskey sour.
"This is going to be a very short evening unless you learn this isn't a date."
"Aww..babes..I thought you would like it."
"Don't call me babes. Don't you ever call me babes."
"I thought you would like it!"
"I leave to go to the bathroom, come back, and you're Super Queer. Fucking..nothing of the you that was before: no uncertainty, no timid questions. You're acting like you've been here a thousand times, know the score—everything!"
"Abigail, I'm sorry—but it seems the venue fits."
"Yes it does."
I grab my drink, sip it.
Evan looms in on me.
"How is it?"
"It's good," I say. "But I'd rather have a G&T. How do you know how to make this, anyway?"
"She knows how to make it."
"But did you prompt her? Why's she giving you special treatment?"
"Because. I pictured you for her."
"You did what?"
"I showed her pictures of you."
"So she could see how cute you were."
"I don't need you to pimp me out. Get out there yourself. I do fine on my own."
"Ok, I'm sorry."
"I think you're just a little hyper due to being here."
"I think so, too."
"Go slow on that drink."
Just now that waitress comes back around.
"Like your drinks?"
"Mmm hmm." "They're mag—nificent," Evan completes.
"We're fine here," I say. "Thank you!"
The waitress leaves.
"She is cute. But—!" I say, as Evan is smiling: "Not for me! I'm in recovery mode, bro—lay off the hookups."
"Nothing cures the past like the future." Evan says.
"I bet if I look that up, it's Madonna."
"It's somebody," Evan says. "I'm gonna go dance."
"No! You got this Frankenstein—at least sit here and drink it with me."
"I'd trade you drinks any day."
"Shush. Just shush. Sit there and—down dogge!—obey the rules."
"This is fantab," Evan says.
And I say: "You're high."
"Damn right!" Evan says, standing in the booth.
"Sit the fuck down or I'm taking you home!"
"I'm sorry," Evan says. "Sorry sorry sorry." Seated, he says: "I am high—you're right. I've never been out before—this is like magic."
"It is," I say. "I know. It is. Have a touch of calm to go with your excitement."
"Ok," Evan says—but he's rocking on his haunches like a cat does before it attacks something.
I hold Evan's hand.
"Now you gotta tell me—what should I do about that girl—our server."
"Go for it," Evan says.
"She is cute," I say.
"She loved your pictures."
"I still can't believe you showed her pictures of me!"
"It was all very casual."
"It seems weird to me."
"She straight up was like I want to meet her. No creep."
"It still seems weird."
Evan shrugs and drinks his drink.
"When does she take a break?"
"She said 12."
"You asked her when she takes her break?"
"She told me, Abby. It wasn't as sinistro as you're thinking."
"You know what's sinistro? You showing up at my house after you killed somebody. That shit ain't right."
"My mistake—next time—"
"There's not going to be a next time!"
"Right," Evan says. "Right. Of course."
"There's not going to be a next time."
"There's not going to be a next time."
I look around the club for that waitress.
"Listen. In a minute I'm gonna take off and find that waitress. I'll finish my drink first—you finish yours, too. We'll dance for a while and when you're ready, call me."
"Ok but—don't leave me here."
"I'm not leaving you, Baby Evan. Strap in and buck yourself up—I don't need a basket case on my hands tonight. You're an adult for all intents and purposes—act the part—please?"
I hold his hand.
"Yeah. I'm sorry. It is..just..new to me."
"I know. That's all ok. It's good to see you like this—reminds me of when I first came to Never Never—I was delirious—like you."
"What happened since then?"
"I went around the block a few times. No shit."
"No shit. I'm sorry, Abby."
"It wasn't bad shit. It was just—run of the mill—stuff. You know what I'm saying?"
"Stuff I don't want to repeat. Ya dig?"
"Yeah I got you."
"Well drink your drink with me and let's go."
We both bottoms up—set our glasses on the table. Evan exits his side and I exit my side of the booth.
I head to the kitchen while I see Evan merge into the dance crowd.
He seems alright—sober enough to stand, drunk enough to frolic—a man in his proper place: (which, essentially, is:) on the floor.
I stand at the kitchen doors, mesmerized.
Servers go in and out—but not mine.
The bar is behind me. The kitchen doors are on my left.
Then I see a door to the outside—it's through the kitchen—and I go for it, pushing my way through the workers, trying to look like I know what I'm doing and that I belong.
A mixture of smoke and quiet talk.
People dressed in black.
And there's my girl—I walk up. She is dressed in a kilt (I wonder what if anything underneath) plus a black shirt.
I ask her: "What's up with the kilt? Does management approve?"
And she says: "Not only do they not approve, but every time I wear it they tell me I'm about to be fired."
Her face—her lines—she's a strong take for my 10th grade girlfriend. And that take stirs within me feelings for a younger age—of girlfriends and such feelings from about the time I was five—I loved the babysitter!—the Sunday school teacher!—and the substitute I met in fourth grade—everything was sexual—even all the way back then.
I take this girl in—she is consummate—total.
The completion of me.
"What happens if you get fired?" I say.
"I'll have to come and live with you."
"I'm serious," this girl says—she touches the top of my leg.
"Mmm..I could get used to you."
"Try me—there's lots to learn!"
"How long is your break?"
"Why, you wanna take me somewhere?"
"Meet me out back—at the dumpster—in five minutes."
She takes her hand off my leg.
"You—are a sick bitch. I'll meet you there in five."
That's what she said—and I went outside—into streetlamp and asphalt and a green metal dumpster with instructions on the side—a large white logo—of letters.
And here she came.
Hands behind her back. Like she's walking a dog, casually flipping the leash—roller skates—street girl personified.
She steps to me—the heat between her legs—trapping—encapsulating—
—I grabbed her pussy—
Like I was a celebrity!!
And she stepped upon me—up!—up!
My hands were all over—everywhere—scraping this girl's nerves. A proper dose of each of us in landscape. Mirror. The profile of a page, organized and recognized. She caught my movement and repeated it—twice—and I knew (right then and there) this girl was good to go. I switched us around leaned her back against the green metal dumpster, she took off her top and was just kilt and bra and boots and socks, skin pumping, and she looked at me with a breathe..
..which I turned into an ahhh..
..with a few pimply lip pricks..
..a hand between the legs..
..I kneel and put a tongue in this bitch, lick her from the inside, and—delicately—fuck that puss with my mouth.
She's a vortex, twisting, arms above her head and the music from the club is vanquished here by distance and time and replaced with cold air coming down from above, frost on the metal—fears you might get stuck—pain from the frozen panels—faint smell of garbage—and the occasional massive shiver.
She screams, "Ohhh!"
I hold her in place to cum.
Work my tongue.
Rub that warm little diamond.
Give her a wide lick across her pussy lips.
Hold her tighter.
Then she tries to go and I hold her even more.
"Stay!" I say—like I'm talking to a dog.
"My break's almost over."
"Then stay even more."
She's pulling apart.
"Two more minutes," I say.
But she says, "No," and is putting her shirt back on as she goes across the street. She gives me a wave as I'm kneeling on the asphalt, panting—but my adventure isn't over, out here—as I discover Evan and another guy coming outside.
I hide on the far side of the dumpster—equally lost in my memories of kilt girl and the tarty taste of her pussy—and my attention to Evan and his date (who I'll call, "That 50s-Looking Guy"—based solely on his sideburns). They came across the parking lot hot hot hot! grabbing each other in the pants and laughing. They came straight for the dumpster and I saw that this 50s-Looking Guy was probably..truly..in his 50s. I thought about getting Evan by the hand and dragging him home, but I watched them from the edge of the dumpster and saw they went to the opposite side.
And this is what I heard:
"Can I do it?" (Evan)
"Yes, you can." (50s-Looking Dude)
"Can I go all the way?" (Evan)
"Yes!" (50s-Looking Dude)
Sound of them helping 50s Dude off with his pants.
"I can't see it! Do you have a light on your phone?"
"Lemme get you hard!"
"Alright. Alright. Relax."
"You're talking to yourself, kid."
"I'm checking my sensory input load."
"It's for modern medicine."
"Ok, ok—check your load—do what you gotta do."
"Ahh," Evan says.
"You like that?" (mouth full)
"Ohh!" Evan says.
I picture him grabbing dude's head.
"Don't cum. I want you to cum in my ass."
"Ok! I want that, too."
"Then I'll cum in your little honey pot, your tiny hiney—"
"Mmm-hmm," I heard Evan say, and it was like he melted.
"What about this?"
"Do you like that?"
"Mmm-hmm! Yes! Yes!!"
"Alright. Pretend you're in prison and I'm raping you."
"We're cellmates. You're bottom bunk I'm top. It's nighttime and I woke you up to fuck."
"I don't really know—"
"Know! man, know!"
"Ok. You're my cellmate. It's nighttime. You pulled me off the shelf to suck my dick."
"And, after this, you get to fuck my ass."
"Yeah," Evan said.
"Ok, so: shut up. Lean back and take it—tell me when you're close."
Evan makes a "yes" sound.
I listen for him to cum—and, naturally, I played with myself (imagining kilt girl) looking up at the sky. Evan's back bouncing against the dumpster, 50s-Looking Guy getting us both off. I thought of kilt girl's puss as I heard the pleasure sounds of Evan, getting his dick sucked (hopefully) real well. I imagine Evan's fingers digging into the green metal as he felt himself reach that point of no return—and, thinking of kilt girl, I felt myself reach that point as well: coming from the edges, like tinfoil, expanding into hard silver metal—me rubbing my clit, fast now—then the metal is in place, impossible to move, and every part of me goes tense—and every part of me sings—then I let go, and all is blank and release—and I rub my puss and get the juice and I bring it to my mouth and lips to taste, to linger—to sample this corpus of mine.
Evan says: "I'm close," and the guy says, "Move it! Move it!" and I hear shuffling and static and noise—the foley of cloth scraping against other cloth, shoes moving against the ground—of the old man undressing (to guess)—of Evan scrambling to get to the guy's asshole while his dick is still hard.
Then: "Ahhh!" (Evan)
Then the old guy: "Fuck! You feel that, boy?"
"Yes and would you shut up!"
"Sure," the old guy grunts.
Then: fucking, the slapping of thighs against butt cheeks—those most carnal of sounds—working against it, working it counterclockwise—working against the old man's will—that's my Evan, across the dump—and this is me listening, leaning up across the green metal surface—playing out my voyeuristic side—never to leave this moment until Evan does—committed to staying completely silent—quiet—angelic in my pride, my stance, even kneeling on the asphalt, the gravel, imaginary wings folded on my back.
And Evan takes control of the older man, getting his rhythm, forgetting that he's in the Never Never Land parking lot—that people can see him—that they're in the open.
Evan fucks the old man and I imagine what it's like to have a peen. To feel a puss or an asshole with that peen: to swipe it, to fuck. (As opposed to getting fucked.) A feeling I'll never feel—unless science comes up with an affordable, transplantable peen—at which point everyone will want one and the cost will skyrocket for a while, before calming down such that I can afford one.
Evan fucks the man and their sounds are so loud I look toward the NNL and see the same group of boys out back, not looking our way. The only one they can see is me: crouched against the side of the dumpster. Evan's on the opposite side—hidden. I hear so many "uggh"s and "oh!"s and "oww!"s it's hard to imagine that people outside the NNL wouldn't be looking over.
"Stay. Fucking. Still!" Evan said.
And you could tell he was breaking the man down.
"You'll stay—the fuck—still—until I cum!"
My instinct was to rush over there and stop things but the greater part of me wanted to see what would happen when Evan (a natural murderer) met up with a random guy in the alley.
Sound of the old guy choking: "Kkh—ahkk—ughhk!"
Then Evan: "You're gonna—stay!—for me—until I'm done!"
Then the sound of a bald skull hitting the dumpster.
"I'm not afraid of you!" Evan said.
"That's ok—I'm not asking you to."
"Good, then—good! Obey!!"
Old guy talking: "Oghkcarbledly carbledly—"
Then Evan: "Shut. Up. Old. Man. I've heard about enough from you tonight."
Sound of a pocket knife switching open.
I almost move: crab myself to the dumpster instead.
"You feel that, motherfucker?"
"Now—loosen!—up!! There you go. There you go. I didn't come all the way to Binghamton to get an easy fuck from you. If I get a solid fuck for—this, my first time—that will be a win. And don't think I won't knife you and leave you right here! That's it—looser now. But when I tell you to clench up, you clench up—understood? CLENCH UP!! Ha! Ha, yeah! Ha ha ha—delightful!! Delightful motherfucker. You're a good fucker—nice and good! Something comes over me—you see—when I fuck you, I see Ian in the woods, with his bird book, looking between the pages and the sky, and I didn't fuck him, then, not until now, when I find you in Never Never Land—you're my surrogate, and when I'm done, I may kill you, for letting me do this to you. You're a maniac—everything that's wrong with me..I find..in you. Forgotten by your town, your city, your parents, your school—do you know how that feels?"
The old man said: "Yes."
"Yes, I do. You've got to go to Philadelphia, New York to get the kind of acceptance you desire. Don't shoot me, ok? Fuck me—fuck me good and cum in me, boy. Then run away to Philadelphia and write me back with all your conquests—don't take it out on me."
Then Evan was hoof and poof and he came.
I went to the other side of the dumpster and pulled on Evan's hand—it pulled his dick right out of the oldie and I was dragging my friend across the parking lot.
"But we're just getting started."
"No, we're not—this is us finishing."
"I want another drink," Evan says.
"We're done with drinks now!"
"I want one more drink."
"Evan! Get in the fucking car!!"
I wait for him.
He gets in.
We both slam our doors.
"You say you're gonna take me out to get loose and get wild and I'm just now getting used to you and I'm doing what you said: I'm getting wild—"
"I never said anything about getting wild."
"It was implied!"
"And buckle your seatbelt."
"If I don't buckle it, we can stay?"
"If you don't buckle it, I'll kick you out of my fucking car."
We stare-contest each other. I keep looking until Evan buckles.
Then I pull the fuck out of that parking lot.
We're on the highway before I say:
"You almost killed that guy."
It's yellow stripes in the road, lit by streetlamp, for a while—and this is where we say:
"No I didn't."
"Maybe you don't know how much force it takes to kill someone."
"Maybe I don't," Evan says. "Maybe. I. Do not."
"Stop the car!"
"Stop the car!!"
I screech to a stop—two wheels hanging over the side of the road—and turn to Evan.
"You gotta puke—do it here."
"I don't gotta puke!"
"Then why did you have me stop the car then?"
Then Evan puked. It came out in yellows and reds.
"Evan—that ain't no drink I saw you drink."
I move toward him.
"What is that?"
"I took a pill."
"From who?—the guy at the dumpster?"
Evan nods and pukes again.
"What did he say it was?"
"Do you feel high?"
"Did he say it was Molly—X? Was it Oxy?—Vicodin?—Lortab? Hydrocodone? Paracetamol?"
"He didn't say."
"What did he say?"
" 'Take this.' "
"I know and you just took it—right?"
Evan nods. He cries.
"I'm sorry, Abby—I didn't mean to take that pill."
"I know—it's ok."
"But it's not—it is not ok."
"Don't self-flagellate yourself. Honey. Come on. We'll get you home and you take a warm bath—you sleep for a few hours—and—boom!—you're better already. Come on, Ev—come on."
"I don't deserve to go."
"Well you don't deserve to get left on the highway by me, so."
"I don't deserve it!"
"Evan. Fuck you! Get in the car!!"
"I'll walk home. I'll just walk."
"You're not walking home! You're gonna finish puking then wipe up perfunctorily then get in the passenger seat and then off we go! Do you need a t-shirt? I'll look."
I went to the back of the car and fished around for a t-shirt or a sweatshirt. I found a hoodie that said "Fighting Beavers!!" and had a screen print of a beaver on the back—took it to Evan.
There were cars occasionally driving past—a huge chance that those people knew us.
"Go on! Go on!!" Evan shouted, undressing.
"Just the top, Ev."
"The top of what?"
"Of your outfit—your shirt!"
"What does perfunctorily mean?"
"It means in name only—you didn't learn that in your SAT prep class?"
"I don't have an SAT prep class."
"Oh..well.. You know..it means your heart's not really in it."
"And how am I doing that right now?"
"Your cleaning up..is perfunctory. You don't have to do it all the way—just do it generally."
"Are you telling me that to distract me from what I'm doing?"
"No. I just wanted to use the word—see if you were listening."
Evan comes up the side of the car, shirt and tie in the cradle of his arms. He starts to hand it to me.
I point at the trunk.
"Find a plastic bag in there."
"Hey! This is just like Pulp Fiction."
"No it's not. This is real real gross."
"Ok," he snooted.
Then he talked below his breath, right where he thought I couldn't hear him, while looking for a bag.
"It was gross to them, too, in the movie—maybe the grossest thing any of them had ever encountered. 'I just shot Marvin in the head!' Here's my nut sack—for the tie. And here's my head sack—for the shirt. Then we get out and I say, 'They look like a couple of dorks.' Then it's Sammy Jackson's turn to say, 'They're your clothes motherfucker!' Then I'm like—(all laughs)—and—"
"Hay!" I say. "Finish up back there and get in the fucking car."
"We don't have time for a full re-enactment! Drop your clothes and hop in up front! I don't want to chill on the side of the road tonight."
"Why not?" Evan says, leaning out of the trunk.
"Cops. Cops! I wanna get home!!"
"Ok," Evan says, going past me and getting into the passenger seat. Then he bangs on the door, slides the auto window down. "I'm ready to go now!!"
"You're ready to go? You're ready to go??"
I traipse around the front of my mom's car and get in behind the steering wheel.
"Are we done with the fireworks?"
"Look, Abigail: that's the first time I ever threw up on pills."
"Did you ever do pills before?"
"Well maybe tonight's a lesson!"
"Don't certainly me, brotha—"
"Did you ever throw up on 'em?"
"Don't worry about me! I can handle my drinks. And my pills."
Evan looks out the window and I think it's going to be a quiet drive home but almost immediately he turns back to me.
"Did you see the guy I was with?"
"Yeah! That oldie? You musta been hard up to stick your dick in that man's asshole."
"It wasn't hard up. He was teaching me things. Like where to go after high school and that I could look him up and report back."
I looked over at Evan, skeptical.
"You could have figured all that out yourself."
He stares at me, then looks out his seat window.
"It felt good, though."
"Well. Good for you."
"Isn't this what you wanted? For me to have that experience?"
"I suppose it is," I say.
"Then why are you mad at me?"
"I'm not mad at you. I'm not mad at you, ok? I thought it would go differently. I just don't want to fuck you up with the weight of drugs and fucking some rando. But—if you like it, then you like it—it's not my business. I'm sorry, Ev—I just wanted it to be special—what a girl thing, right?"
I drove us home—to my home—pulled into the garage.
"You're gonna stay here."
"No. You're going to stay here."
I walked him to my room—careful not to wake Mom—and laid him down on my bed—cutesy little daybed thing. I covered him with my blankets and pulled Buster Bear with me and I took Buster Bear to the garage and got out Evan's clothes bags and went to the laundry room and I sat there, awake, for a long time, using the heat from the dryer to give some warmth to my bum. And after an hour and a half I took Evan's clothes upstairs and laid them over the bar where Evan's head was sleeping. And I pulled out some blankets from my closet and made a little burrow on the floor. And me and Buster Bear went sleeping, too.
I woke with Evan kneeling over me—he was holding Buster Bear, and saying:
"Don't sleep! Don't sleep! Beep! Beep! Don't sleep!"
I said: "Put the bear down and walk away."
Evan turned the bear to his face and I ripped him away and held him to my chest.
"What are you doing?"
"I'm serenading you!"
"Well please stop. Please. Stop. And tell me how you're doing."
"I'm a little hungover."
"What about that pill? How's that treating you?"
"It feels fine, I guess—gone."
"I can't even remember what it used to feel like."
"Good. Good. Now we've got to get you back to life."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean..get you back to life! Get you—clean clothes—back to whatever you'd be doing this time, Saturday morning. Food helps. Routine helps. You gotta do something normal for long enough..and then eventually..you'll be normal yourself, again."
"What would I be doing this time Saturday morning."
"That's a question for you."
"Probably playing PlayStation?"
"Whatever it is..what is it?"
"And what clothes would you be wearing..if you were you."
"I am me."
"That's what I'm saying: if you were you."
"But I am me!"
"Right. And as that you, what would you be wearing?"
"Just sweatpants, I guess—and a sweatshirt with the school logo on it. But Abby—"
"Do you have those clothes clean at your house?"
"Abby. Hold on. Stop fixing me for a second."
"What is it, Evan? Don't you want to be fixed?"
"No. Not really, no. First I need you to know: I'm extremely depressed."
"So call up your doc and get some antidepressants."
"I did that."
"What kind are you on?"
"Celexa, I think—but they're switching me to Lexapro."
"Switching you why?"
"Because..Celexa has..sexual side effects."
"It's hard to cum."
"That's bad—so you switch to Lexapro—hopefully the side effects are less."
"But that's not it. Abby. That's one small thing among many."
"What? What's going on?"
"I already told you—I'm extremely depressed."
"I understand—I've had depression. Taken Lexapro and the whole thing. I don't understand why that prevents you from following my instructions, getting home, changing clothes, and sitting in front of the TV playing PlayStation for a minute..getting back to normal..one step at a time."
"It's totally possible. It's just difficult for you cognitively because you're on cloud nine. You just gotta do it."
"I feel like killing myself."
"Oh yeah? How're you going to do that?"
"Aren't you supposed to be supportive when someone tells you that?"
"I guess..I don't feel like being supportive. You're alive now. You have good things going for you. You're on..whatever kind of drug that makes you feel like it's ok to kill yourself—"
"I felt this way since before the drug."
"Ok, so you felt this way..since..your encounter with Ian the other day—"
"I felt this way before Ian. I think Ian was my way of playing with my own mortality..I mean—"
"Look. Evan. I'm equipped to handle on drugs/off drugs/drunk/hungover/etcetera, but I'm not equipped to deal with suicidal. Sorry. Call your doc. Call 911. Abigail Temple has to bow out of this one."
"I just don't want to be alone."
"Your mom..your dad?"
"My mom will be there..but..being there with her is just like being alone."
"Yeah, I get that."
"It seems like you and your mom get along well, though."
"We do and we don't—if you know what I mean."
"What do you mean?"
"Well..we do on non-personal subjects. Like philosophical things..religious things. But on anything personal, such as..anything!..down to how I wear my hair..we don't."
"Do you feel like she's in your business?"
"I don't want to talk about my mom, Evan—not gonna do it."
"Are you gonna be ok then?"
"I'm already not ok."
"But are you gonna be ok?"
"No. I'm not ok now—I'm not going to be ok. You're my one friend and you're leaving me."
"Look at me: not leaving. We're in my home in my room and I'm not going anywhere. If anything, you're leaving me—but I am not leaving you."
"Yes..we both can be reasonable if we want to."
"I'm trying, Abby—I'm trying."
"I know. I see that. And you're doing really well."
I lean forward to hug Evan.
"Yes, of course! You're extremely reasonable and open-minded about the situation you find yourself in..or..that we find ourselves in."
"What situation is that?"
"Being drunk..being hung over on pills and drinks..having just had sex for the first time!..and of course..having killed Ian last week—that's all new, isn't it?"
"Yes. It is."
"So go easy on yourself. This isn't the time to add anything to the picture. Just let it settle. Sit on my bed. Now lie down. Close your eyes. Can you think of something peaceful? Think of that—imagine it in all its fullness. Make it fill itself all the way to the edges of your mind. Are you doing it?"
"Yes, I am."
"Now imagine yourself in the scene—unless you have already. Have you?"
"Well go ahead and put yourself in the scene."
"Ok, I did."
As I knelt beside Evan on my bed, I continued the meditation and told him what to do. He said yes to my instruction. I imagined my own scene while he did his. And I asked myself: does this kid have the gumption to make it through the killing of his classmate? In his answers, he was frail, confused—and I was forced to conclude that he did not have that gumption.
When Evan woke he was a mess. Pure tragedy, soaked in blue, flying on the clothesline in the yard.
"I deserve to die," he said.
"You don't deserve to die—you deserve to come downstairs with me and get pancakes."
"I won't need pancakes when I'm dead!" he shouted.
"Shut the fuck up, man—I make excellent pancakes."
"I'm serious, Abby—it's too late for me."
"Too late for you to what?"
"Mate, make love, be a man—it's all too late—and I'm going to kill myself with or without your help."
"You're freakin' me out, man."
"You should be freaked. You should. I'm having a crisis, here, ok?"
"Ok. Just—work with me on the crisis—you know, tell me what the crisis is—let's go from there."
Evan sits up in my bed.
"The crisis is Ian!"
"I don't know if you've noticed, but if you keep your mouth shut on that one, you got away with murder!"
"That's the problem, though—it doesn't matter if I keep my mouth shut—it's in here!" he cracks his head with a set of knuckles. "It's always in here!"
"It'll pass..or you'll move away."
"What is that supposed to mean?"
"Either way..you'll cease to become my problem."
"That's very nice of you. Very nice. If you want to get rid of me, help me get rid of myself."
"Evan. You're talking the language of suicide—right?"
"I guess so."
"Well I can't help you with that—ok? I'm trying to be your nurse because I like you—but there's a limit to what kind of angel I can be."
"It's ok," I say. "But you've got to solve your problems in other ways—you know?—like surround yourself with what you do want to think about. Not Ian all the time. Maybe a little at night—before you go to bed, you could spend five minutes thinking about him, and then you let it go, and you fall asleep—could that work?"
"Yes, that could work—I suppose."
"What's the 'I suppose?' "
"I just felt like saying 'I suppose.' "
"Well feel like not saying it!"
"Don't be sorry just—be sorry! I can't coach you out of your murder if you don't want to be coached! That I cannot do!"
"I'm sorry!" Evan says again. "I'm falling apart—ok? I'm like a building that's just scaffolding and pieces keep falling out of the middle. I'm a shell—and a shell that's broken."
"Ok—ok—that's ok! You're a broken shell."
"I want to die, Abby."
"I can't make you die!!"
The door opens. My mom leans in.
"Everything alright in here?"
"Oh, yes—everything's fine!" I chime.
"Evan. You ok?"
Evan clears his throat.
"I'm fine, Mrs Temple."
"Ok! Just checking!" Mom says, closing my bedroom door.
I look at Evan—prompting him to talk.
"There might be a way..you could help me die..that way I wouldn't be in mis-favor with the Lord."
"Please, Evan—you're already in mis-favor with every good deity on this planet. You wanna waste your life? Kill yourself. Go ahead. Get your gun. Lock yourself in a closet and hang yourself—"
"You sound mad," Evan says.
"Why do you think that might be?"
"I have no idea. You're just helping me find ways to—"
"Kill yourself? Kill yourself. I'm helping you think of ways to kill yourself. I'm your friend! I don't want you to kill yourself—that's why I might sound mad, you know? You develop a friend over years and then they do one thing that makes them hate themselves and they want to kill themself!!"
"It's not one thing," Evan says.
"So you've been suicidal all this time?"
"Yes," Evan says.
"That's fucking great."
I stand. I go to my door.
"I'm going downstairs. I'm making us pancakes. If you want pancakes—come on down! If you somehow find a way to kill yourself—up here, before I finish breakfast—then do it! I don't fucking care."
"And call me Abigail!"
I am facing the door, my back to Evan.
"Can you not tell your mom?"
"I'm not going to tell my mom."
I turn back to Evan.
"I'm not, ok? I will not tell her. She's having a nice Saturday morning, almost totally oblivious to us—she just checked in because we were yelling. Other than that, she just roams around the house having mini epiphanies and analyzing the scriptures in Greek and shit."
"That's what I love about being here!"
"Also. That's another thing. It's noon: Saturday, noon. You can stay for pancakes but you can't stay here."
"After breakfast I'll walk you to your house?"
"We'll get you home?"
I open the door to go out, but I go back in.
"I've never killed anyone so I don't know, but—I think you killed him in a reactionary way—such that you wouldn't necessarily have to kill anyone else in your life. That's just my assessment. He meant something to you—he was a symbol of your sexuality. But you have to accept your own sexuality as an alternative to repeating the same pattern with someone else. It could be anyone—it could be me. Which is why I've decided not to be around you while you're carrying firearms."
"But it wouldn't have to be that," I say. "It could have been last night, in the car—you could have turned the wheel on an icy road..in the dark..and I would have no control over you."
"I would never do that," Evan says.
But I say: "We'll see."
Evan and I skipped breakfast and went for a walk. I stopped at the garage and picked up Ian's bird book and stuffed it in my kanga pocket. We walked behind the Amish store and went down a hill.
"Let's go to Miller's Creek," Evan suggested.
"You're thinking Nanticoke Creek," I said.
"I'm thinking Miller's," Evan said.
"What that little thing down by the pig farm?"
"Where that little windmill is dunking pond water?"
"It's not pond water—it's Miller's Creek that it's dunking."
"That little stream is called Miller's?"
"Yeah. That's Miller's Creek."
"Well. Whatever it's called. I find it hard to believe that little stream is called Miller's Creek."
"It is," Evan says. "It's outside of Miller's Farm—it's called Miller's Creek."
"So you're just calling it Miller's Creek."
"No. That's what it's called."
"When we get back to a map I'm looking it up."
"Look it up all you want. It's called Miller's Creek."
"Fine! Fine. Fuck. It's called Miller's Creek. You've got some real narcissistic tendencies, Evan—"
"What does that mean?"
"It means you're always right."
"I am right about this one thing."
"And I've given you that—I have! If you say it's Miller's Creek then it's Miller's Creek. But about last night—you're consensually raping some guy behind a dumpster—"
"What were you doing there?"
"What was I doing? Behind the dumpster?"
"Yes. What were you doing..behind the dumpster."
"Listening to you."
"But before that?"
"I was making out with our server—what do you think!"
"And wasn't that consensual rape?"
"Because you're both girls!!"
"Yes, Evan: when you rape someone, you have to have a dick."
"That's not true! That's not true!! You could rape someone with your fingers. You could rape someone with a rake. Both of those are things that you could do."
I stop walking. Evan stops and looks behind.
"Are you through?" I say. "Good. Rape isn't just the act of anyone penetrating a vagina with anything," I say. "Rape is when a male human fucks a female (or male) with his dick. So-called rape with a rake handle isn't rape. I'm sorry but it isn't."
"Ok are you through?" Evan says. "Rape. Isn't about male or female perpetrators. Either male or female can perpetrate. I can stick my fingers in your mouth and it's rape! It's not about having a vagina (specifically) or an asshole (specifically) penetrated during the act. It's about having your rhizome punctuated unwillingly."
"So an extra-invasive hug could be rape."
"It is rape—if the potential victim sees it that way."
"How did we get into this conversation?"
"You were self-seeing that your making out with our server was less rape than me fucking that old guy."
"I need you to shut up until we get to Miller's Creek."
"Ok," he said—and we did.
He shut up and I shut up and I banished the term—rhizome—that was now bouncing around my head. I didn't need some gay boy telling me what rape was—especially Evan—when I was comforting him and counseling him and taking him on adventure walks through northeastern Pennsylvania. He fucking killed somebody. I was his confidant. We should have gotten pancakes before we left on our randomly chosen journey through the woods. In fact, if you want to know the truth: we shouldn't have been going on adventure walks in the first place.
This is the kind of circumstance I always get into: helping out someone like Evan when I was better off focusing on my own shit: my own life, my own problems—my circus, my monkeys, as the saying goes.
But I don't do that. I jump into the ring and offer to help. I fix, I listen, I spend my time—nothing like my bro or sis. They're so goddamn focused on their own projects they don't have time for family—or for me. I know someday I'll end up with three kids and neither of them will have any—empty lives with empty apartments, no lasting relationships, no jobs—perfect for their artistic aims.
My brother is a writer—my sister is a dancer. Well, he teaches writing, she teaches dancing. So they're wannabe artists. Neither has children, neither is in a relationship. I dream—I am a nurse—I marry a programmer—I have three kids—I stay queer—we have a flexible relationship—I make projects, sell them on Etsy—live in Portland or Austin or somewhere hip—somewhere I can ride my bicycle. Flash forward: my kids develop disabilities which can't be cured and make me and my husband's life hell—ha ha ha.
Evan and I get to Miller's Farm and Evan points: Miller's Creek with a windmill scooping cups of water and doing something unintelligible about them.
"Is this it?" I say.
"Yeah," Evan whispers, holding one hand up for stop. "They're not here," he says.
"How can you tell?"
"No smoke in the chimney."
"But what if—?"
"No. They run smoke. Fire in the stove. Wood heat."
"I believe you."
"Sit with me," Evan says—he sits on a low stone wall.
I sit with him. We both dip our hands in the freezing water.
"This is where I want you to kill me," he says.
"What are you babbling about?"
Evan grabs my hand.
"I want you to kill me here. Take me down. Hold me under the water and I know I'll struggle but you'll have the upper hand like John Doe in that one movie but I mean you'll really literally have the upper hand because I'll be like this and you'll be up here—like that—and we'll do it together, see?—like friends would—except you're more than a friend to me—you're my killer."
"I am not your killer."
"But you are!"
"Not your killer!"
"You are though, Abigail, you are. You are my killer."
"Stop! Words have power—you are banned from saying 'killer.' "
"I'm not banned from saying it—I'm encouraged to say it!"
"I don't believe you brought me all the way down here for this!"
"You're mentally ill—do you know that?"
"So what—I'm mentally ill?"
"Like you need a psychiatrist—seriously."
"It's too late for that!"
"It's not too late! We're gonna walk back. We're gonna get you a psychiatrist."
"I'm not going back—Abigail—I'm not going back."
"Oh, fuck. I might have to leave you here. I'm sorry, but—I can't have anything to do with you right now."
"Right now?—is all the me you'll ever see."
Evan unzips his jacket, takes off his shirt.
"What are you doing?"
"This is my suicide—almost. I'll hit my head against a rock. You hold me down—in the water. It'll look like suicide."
"It's not gonna look like suicide."
"It is suicide—it's assisted suicide."
"What about the house? The Millers?"
"I showed you it's empty."
"Yeah but now we're talking assisted suicide. So we have to make sure it's extra empty—like—100% empty."
"It's 100% empty—trust me."
"If you want to die so much, just do it and I'll watch from back here."
"Gotta be up close and personal."
"How long have you been planning this?"
"About a week."
"So..since Ian died..plus a few days?"
"Why did you consider me?" I say.
"Because, Abigail. I trust you."
"Well trust me to say I don't think you deserve to die."
"That's super nice of you. Give me a hug."
I step back to Evan but don't touch him.
"Don't you think they'll be looking? I don't want my skin cells all over your body!"
Evan hits the stone wall.
"Now we're talking!"
"I'm not saying I'll do it!"
"Yes you are—you are!"
"I'll walk right back over there—" I say.
"No! No. Stay. Sit with me. Listen. They do it all the time. There was that girl—what's her name?—in New York, she killed her pregnant friend and cut out the baby! So people do do it. Even all the way back to ancient times—sometimes a death was a murder—sometimes when you go into the woods—people die. Like Ian. He and I went into the woods. I came out—he didn't."
"Except this time it's you—who doesn't come out of the woods."
"That's right! That's right, Abigail. And you might be able to stomach my death better than I can stomach Ian's!"
"What makes you think that?"
"You're less of a murderer!"
"Fuck man. I can't get into this."
"Abigail—Abby. Stay for a minute. Stay for a while. There's no pressure—"
"For me to murder you—there's no pressure."
"Not a bit. See—I can't live my life. You've seen me."
"You're still high on whatever that pill was. You have no way of telling that you can't live your life."
"But I knew before! I did, Abby, I did! I knew before me and Ian went into the woods."
"Then why did you go?"
"I think because I wanted to see if I could make things better."
"If by..erasing..the man who had caused me such trouble..at school..I could..cleanse my life."
"How in the fuck is that gonna cleanse your life, Ev? How? By killing your friend."
"He was never really my friend."
"Ok by killing Ian—whoever he was to you. Did it work?"
"That's what I'm saying: no! It definitely did not work."
"So how is this going to work? Whose life are we cleansing now?"
"I don't know."
"Seems like something you'd want to be sure of."
"It seems like something we'd want to be sure of—before we kill the person—you—in the creek by Miller's pig farm! Fuck!!"
"I think you're feeling it now—like we're really going to do this!"
"Shut up shut up shut up!!"
"We don't need every answer. Just know that I want to do this and I have for a long time and it's just a little thing I think you can help me with—one last time—one last thing—you know?"
"Take off your shoes!"
"Yes!" Evan says. "Swizzlenifty."
"Don't bring the made-up words—just keep 'em to yourself."
He takes off his shoes and pants. A set of long johns comes off with the pants.
"Let's do this quick," I say.
"I'm ready," Evan says.
"Are you really? Thought about all the things you will miss?"
"I'm not going to miss anything."
"What about your mom?"
"We said goodbye."
"What the fuck does that mean: 'We said goodbye'?"
"It means. Last time I saw her: I said goodbye."
"Well that's different, don't you think? You said goodbye. Haven't you thought about how much trouble this will make?"
"I did, Abby—I thought about it. Will you please kill me now?"
Evan got in the creek, away from the stone edges, and laid down. Everything but his head was underwater. And I got a strange feeling—like goosebumps on the inside—like excitement—but the kind of excitement that would go away soon. And so I went to the creek and knelt beside my friend.
"I'm gonna hold you down with my legs—like this—so there are no marks—the fat of my leg, you understand?"
"Let me hear you say it."
"I understand," he says.
"This ain't no two-way trip."
"Well. Tell me goodbye," I say.
And Ian leans up and kisses me.
Then he lies in the creek, with his face underwater, his eyes closed.
I sit on the underside of his arms, pinning him there.
And after a while, his eyes open, and we're staring at each other through the water.
Then he starts to scream—trying to unseat me—but it doesn't work.
And then the bubbles come.
Those clear capsules of air—inverted in a mushroom sky. Bubbles flowing from my friend's mouth—his eyes open—and I imagine how this is for him: My silhouette, the edge of the pig farm and forest behind me—seen by the trees. I struggle, trying to overturn my friend (having seen this is a fool's errand) and then—not—being—able—to rise! Then waiting for blackness to come.
And I—innocent in this situation!—waited—and waited.
And Evan fixed his eyes on me.
And he stopped moving.
And the bubbles stopped.
And I waited—I waited a long time for that motherfucker.
Long enough for the soul to transfer or something.
Then I got up—I straightened my pants—and I walked a few steps away and looked back: Evan's bod, in the water, still.
I brushed the water off my legs..
As I entered the woods, thoughts about the perfect crime came into my head: 1) Don't be a murderer in the first place—and 2) Don't ever do the same thing twice—have no commonality between your crimes—which probably means only kill one person (I was in that state now). That's how my mind thinks: rules and guidelines and shit. It's like my older brother: he's always writing a book and as such he calls everything research, including activities not even tangentially related to book writing.
But I did stop once I got into the woods—and I looked back (mostly to make sure Evan hadn't gotten up and started following me). I put my hand in my coat pocket and thumbed the binding of a book there.
What would that mean?—It would be a sign to indicate that Ian was here (which was impossible) or (for most people) that Evan had stolen this item of Ian's and carried it with him as his suicide note at Miller's Creek—that would be confirmation that Evan killed Ian while hunting—Or: fuck it:
I stepped out of the woods quickly and went to Evan. I pulled Ian's bird book out of my pocket and threw it in the water with Evan—one quick look to make sure Evan was still asleep (he was) and I backed into the woods, praying that after committing the perfect crime I wouldn't suddenly be grabbed by a bigfoot and sucked away into another dimension.
The whole way up the hill, I wanted to go back—to take another look, to go into Evan's face one last time, to grab the bird book (that was stupid—right?)—or to see if I could resuscitate him and take him home with me to watch Breathless. Even if I couldn't—worst case—I could carry him around with me like Weekend at Bernie's.
Then I stopped. I forgot to bomp him on the head with a rock or do something else that explained his fall—this way..how could anyone understand he fell or bonked himself into oblivion down in that Miller's Creek? But I couldn't go back—I couldn't ever go back.
I came out of the woods beside the Amish supply store and the cash machine, crossed the street and snowy yard, and went into the rectory.
No answer—I went upstairs. Mom was in her research room, headphones on, on some Wicca website. I could see she had a deck of tarot cards out in front of the scanner.
I knocked on the door frame: "Mom."
She pulls the headphones back around her neck and turns.
I go in the room (skippy-dee-do!).
"I wanna go somewhere!"
"Where do you want to go?"
"Binghamton! Let's get Chili's (I'll pay)!!"
"Abby, can you wait till tomorrow?"
"No!" I scream. "Actually, no. It can't wait."
"Baby. Why not. I'm not set up to go to Chili's at a minute's notice."
"Let me take the car."
"To go to Chili's?" Mom says.
"Yes. Or someplace like it."
"What's going on with you?"
"Nothing." I shake my head.
"Are you sure?"
"Can I just borrow your keys?"
"I'd like to know what's going on with you."
"There's nothing going on I just need some Tex-Mex in my belly!"
"Do you think you're having an episode?"
"No! Mom—no. This isn't a bipolar thing."
"It seems like a not-normal thing," she says.
"Let's reset. Can I borrow your keys?"
"Not without more talk."
"I'm sick of talk—your analysis—treating me like everything is due to my bipolar! It's not!!—I'm fucked up in other ways! Can. I. Borrow. The. Keys!!"
Mom takes off her headphones and stands. She grabs her mug (it says I 🖤 U on it).
"I'm going to freshen up my coffee. Will you come with me?"
She waits for a response she doesn't get and brushes past me into the hallway.
I stand there for a long time, long enough for her to go downstairs and pour coffee into her cup, then put her cup into the microwave to heat it. While it's heating, I step into the room, touching things on the surface of her desk—the cards, newspaper articles she's scanning into the computer—then I go to her browser history and there's stuff in there about the Salem witch trials, info on a guy who spooks around Egyptian ruins at night—some page that says Borneo headhunters have switched from poison dart frog-powered blow guns to actual guns because actual guns are more reliable in the jungle.
My mom comes back.
"Interesting 'research.' "
"Uh..excuse you. That's mine."
I step away from the computer.
Mom sits down, sips her coffee, and says:
"I'm sorry. I'm in the middle of something. Why don't you make us enchiladas and I'll be down in a minute to help you finish? Then I'll be done with this and you'll have my full attention."
I said ok. I went downstairs and started making enchiladas—knowing that Mom would be there soon. She didn't come, so I finished up the enchiladas and left them on their plates in the oven on low broil. I set up our places in the living room: placemats, forks, knives. Glasses—with ice—for Cokes (which I waited to pour until Mom came down).
I waited a while and played on my phone.
Then I poured myself a Coke, sat in Mom's chair and drank it.
Then I poured myself another one, and I turned the TV on and navigated to a nature channel which was narrated by Richard Attenborough.
It was a show about birds.
I fell asleep with the glass between my legs.
The ice melted—leaving three inches of cold water that spilled on Mom's chair when I woke at 3am.
When I woke again, it was to a knock at the side door. My mom got it—she was in the kitchen.
The voices came in to the living room—it was someone familiar—it was Connor.
My mom brought him in.
"Someone to talk to you?" she said.
"Good morning, Abby," Connor extending his hand.
Which I shook: "Good morning."
He stayed standing.
Mom went back to the kitchen.
"Got some bad news for you, Abigail."
"What is that?"
As he told me, I listened to Mom's sounds from a distance—she was making something—coffee was on—I inhaled deeply—reheating her enchiladas from last night?
"Do you hear what I'm saying to you?"
"I hear it—I hear it. I'm just not believing it."
"Can I sit?"
"Right! Got you!! Do they know who did it?"
Mom appears in the doorway.
"The thinking is that nobody did it—that he did it himself."
Mom looks at me and I shake my head.
"I'm not supposed to discuss the case but he got naked and sat up in the wheel run of Miller's Creek—think he drown'd himself."
"Were there any witnesses?"
"I don't think so—we're looking."
"What about the Miller family?"
"They weren't home. Where were you—yesterday—around noon?"
"I'm not sure. Either here or..out."
"For a motherfucking walk! What do you think?"
"I don't know."
Mom goes back to the kitchen. I hear the workings of the microwave.
"What do you think people do around here?"
"When's the last time you saw Evan?"
"Yesterday. Morning. Evan stayed over."
"Was he in good standing? Did he talk about wanting to kill himself?"
"Actually he did! Does that make me a bad citizen?"
"Abby. I'm just here to take your statement. Tell me what you know and I'll be out of your hair."
"Evan was erratic. Talking about suicide. I took him to Never Never Land a couple nights ago and he fucked some mondo oldie behind the dumpster. Guy slipped him a pill—he was crazy—Evan was. It was his first time fucking a guy and I think the alcohol and pills and lack of sleep combined with that to push him a little over the edge—you know? I let him stay here to chill out and in the morning we walked around behind the Amish supply store and then—honestly?—I left him—because he was talking stupid about killing himself and I didn't want to hear it! Fucking dumb motherfucker."
"So you left him."
"Where were you at this point."
"I guess about halfway between here and Miller's Creek."
"Did you go with him down to Miller's?"
"Was it just you two?"
"Have you heard from him since then?"
"No!—Didn't you say he was dead!"
"I'm sorry this is hard, Abby—I know you two was real good friends."
"We weren't that good of friends. I mean, how good of friends is good? You know? We weren't that good of friends."
"He stayed over."
"I felt responsible! I took him to Never Never Land for the first time. He had a rough night. He went through that thing with Ian—whatever that was—so yeah, he stayed over! I would have let him stay over for a week if he needed it. You know the situation!"
"Yeah—I know. I know."
My mom was still in the kitchen. I knew she could hear everything we were saying but not see.
Connor reaches into a front pocket and pulls out a sandwich bag full at the bottom of crystal.
Connor mouths: "You want some?"
I bite my tongue and shake my head.
"You sure?" mouthed.
"Yes," I say. I cross my hands and say: "I'm fine."
He puts the bag back in his shirt pocket and goes toward the door. I follow. Mom is in the kitchen, leaning against a counter, eating her enchiladas.
"Good day, Mrs Temple."
Mom holds up her fork (her mouth is full).
Connor turns back to me.
"I'm sorry, Abby—sorry to bring you news like this."
I shrug and shake my head.
"If you need support.." he hands me his card. "It's not like a big city but we do offer support for friends and family of the recently deceased."
"Thank you, Connor."
"Alright. Be seeing you."
He nods and goes out the door. Then he comes back:
"I have something for you."
"For me?" I say.
"Yeah. Stay here."
Connor runs down the front lawn—like a child—and rummages in the side door of his patrol car.
I look at Mom eating her breakfast.
"Is it good?"
"It's delicious," she says. "Sorry I missed you last night."
Mom gives me a deep, deep look—trying to figure me out.
"It's no prob," I say.
Mom says: "I fell asleep in my chair."
"That's some good research," I tell her.
And Connor comes back. His hands are behind him.
He says: "This is from the scene. If you don't tell the family—but—I thought you might want to have this."
And he takes his hands from behind his back and hands me a tiny black booklet.
I turn it over—it's Ian's bird book, passed to Evan, passed to me.
I look up at Connor, but there's nothing in his eyes—he has no idea.
"So I thought you might like to have that."
"Sure, thanks—thank you very much, Connor—thanks for coming by."
"Sure thing," he says—turns—and goes.
I flip through the book, close it, and stick it in my back pocket. On the way out of the room I see my mom looking at me.
"What?" I say.
She says, "Nothing," and continues her meal.
But I stop.
"What is it?" I say. "Let's have it. All of it."
Mom puts down her fork.
"Sometimes," she says, "just knowing something is a crime."
"So what do I know?"
"Abigail. I'm not going to speculate about your life. But I will tell you this: I know many things..that people tell me..in a pastoral-counseling context. And there is a confidentiality there, as with a therapist, lawyer, etcetera. Sometimes people tell me difficult things—things I have a hard time keeping secret. But keep a secret is exactly what I must do. Understand?"
"Yeah. I get that."
"Well. You obviously think I don't. Why don't you keep explaining."
"I don't have to."
"No, Mom, I'm sorry."
"It's ok. People trust you—that's clear."
"All I do is shut up and listen. If you do that, people will tell you anything."
"That's all I do as well," my mom says.
"I guess I get that from you."
"If you do, I'm honored," says my mom. "It's a heavy burden. And I know—with what's been going on at school—that you have enough on your plate right now for one person. I would just hate if you got distracted from picking a college and finishing up your senior year in a way that ultimately feels satisfying to you—something you can look back on with joy and confidence."
"I think I am," I say.
"That's great," my mom says. "That's great. I'm glad you are."
"Are you done with your pep talk?" I say.
"If you want to be done..I'm done!"
"No. No, Mom. I'm sorry. I do want to hear what you have to say."
I settle against a wall.
Mom makes a show of picking up her fork, grabbing a piece of egg, pushing it around the plate, bringing it to her mouth, almost chewing it, and plopping the fork back down.
What she says next is teary:
"I'm sorry I moved us here. I know you're making it work as well as you can—I appreciate that—but you deserve a school that likes you—that doesn't at least ostracize you for being who you are. And the hunting culture.."
"..I'm glad you can laugh! I'm glad you can, because from where I sit, it isn't funny..at all. First day of deer season there's always an accident? I mean..you know there's a reason I tell you to wear your blaze orange..every time you leave the house..every time."
"Mom—and I do!"
"I know. Thanks for humoring me. It's just a mom thing. Promise me something."
"Pick a college far far away—somewhere where there's hope—not somewhere around here. No offense, but I don't want to be able to visit you easily. Be a day away—be eight hours away from here—from me—from this. Be far away enough that you can't come home for the weekend. I love you, girl—but do that for me?"
She spreads her arms and I go to her.
I hug her so tight.
"If you have something you need to talk about," she says (right in my ear), "I'll get you a counselor. I'll drive you to Binghamton. I'll wait in the car. You don't have to tell me—but tell someone. Ok? Please tell someone."
"Remember you're not alone. You have choices. I wish someone had told me that when I was young—it took me until after your dad and I were divorced to understand that about life, but you always have choices. You're never boxed in, ok? There's always an option—always an alternative. You can always escape—you can always use me as an excuse—blame me—please, blame me."
I held onto her for a while, and could hear her pick up her fork and get down a bite of enchilada. I can see her sloppy/sad face in my mind and I know that it's fake—I know she's performing—just like me—acting extra sad when only merely sad, using her tears as currency, performing for an audience of two. She used to get mad at me when I'd do it and now I'm mad at her when she does it—sooner or later I realized, growing up, that this method I had for dealing with the world wasn't something I made up—it was learned—and it was learned from this person I loved the most—with whom I had the most fiery relationship I knew.
"Mom—Mom!—you're holding me too tight."
"Oh! I'm sorry."
She loosens her grip and I'm standing right before her.
"I know how Ian died."
"Don't tell me—I don't want to know."
"And I know how Evan died."
"Then you have a heavy burden to carry!"
"Should I tell someone?"
She grabs me tight.
"Don't tell a soul. Do not tell a nightly soul!"
"Hold it to yourself—hold it in your mind like the identity of a superhero! Never bring it forth—never!!"
We squeeze tighter.
"Be like someone who never knew! You cannot lie in the core of your heart..but you can lie right around that, one layer out, so that if anyone asks you, you can lie convincingly—understand?"
"Now you are like two people—or a thousand. There are layers of truth, layers of lies—understand?"
"Yes, I do!"
"And you control it—you are the master of your lies. Understand?"
I nod through tears.
"And this," she says, reaching around me and pulling the bird book out of my pocket. "Hide it. Bury it. Burn it. Do what you have to do. But make it go away."
I made it go away—I stuffed it under the mattress in my bedroom and went outside. Got on my bike, covered my face with a scarf, and rode down the street with no objective. I guess that's not true. My objective was to act like everything was normal, when of course it was not.
I took my first right, went up aways, saw a police car in Evan's driveway—imagined Connor sitting in the living room with crystal meth in his pocket talking to Evan's parents.
I slowed, pretended to look ahead. Imagined Connor coming outside and seeing me, asking me if I needed a ride. I would decline, say I was just out for air—and he would wish me luck with the killing! Then I became aware I was having a conversation with no one—an imaginary Connor, imaginary police, imaginary murder, imaginary person following me, interested in me, making me a person of interest, making me guilty, finding out about me, finding thoughts in my mind..finding me thinking..finding me.
Riding past Evan's, feeling I was in some sort of Matrix—a cage—and the agents of the place knew what I had done, but no one else—and I could be killed at any moment if someone unplugged me. I'd be like that blonde girl who was like: "Not like this..not like this!" (And then the guy on the ship unplugs her and she falls to the floor—that was me, right here, right now.)
That was me. Going to study nursing—maybe in Erie, PA. Far far away—at least a day away. Cold. Freezing in the winter—worse than here. Flash forward to my brother visiting me—coffee in a campus coffee shop—walking back to the dorm—exiting my roommates out of my bedroom so you and I could talk. Crying to my brother—about what? And then watching the movie Chicago with my roomies and my bro—having one of them take a picture—then you sleep on the couch and are gone before breakfast.
And I?—I am left standing in a picture window—before the snow—like the last shot of Star Wars—holding my spiced apple cider in both hands. Seeing myself as you would see me, leaving—if you happened to look that way.
Then I was up the hill and my pedaling stopped (going as slowly as possible to prevent freezer burn) and I gauged myself on the way down the hill towards the school. Slices of sun. I wish I had pizza—from Binghamton—feta cheese and sausage, thin crust—I'd even share it with my dad, if he was around. Instead it was me and Mom (two crazies) stuck in a house in winter (our fourth) and the whole of LeRaysville against me (therefore us) fucked fucked fucked in a shit-fuck of everlasting fuck.
I come to school. The football team is practicing, using the side yard as their field. The bleachers have a few people—parents who drove—and I park my bike under them and sit at the very edge—pretending not to know anyone, pretending not to see, pretending not to be known by anyone (which was impossible—as soon as I sat down this bitch named Norma came up to me.)
"Hey Abigail! Who are you here for? I don't think Evan plays—does he?"
"I'm just sitting here—is that allowed?"
"It's allowed! Holy shit, bitch—I'm just saying hi to you!"
"Well mind your own business. Nor-ma. Just 'cause I sit here doesn't mean it's an engraved invitation for you to come up to me!"
"Fine!—Sit here by yourself!!"
"That's what I wanted to do!" I say.
"And don't ask me about Evan—Evan's dead."
"Is you serious?" Norma asks.
"Yeah! Killed himself down Miller's Creek—drown'd."
"Is you serious?"
"I'm fucking serious, bitch—now go back to where you came from."
Norma stands there for a while, says "I'm sorry," and goes back to where she came from—sitting next to some hooded, gloved people that were her mom and aunt. She talks to them and they turn and look at me—all shameful and sorrowful—those bitches know Evan is my best friend.
I hide my face, look at the field.
My knuckles are killing me.
And my thoughts go crazy: snippets of films, worries about the kinds of looks I'm leaving all over the place, fears of what I might become (if left here to rot). Some people say they feel dead inside—I have never felt that. But I have felt empty—that empty that you might feel if you were a person in a monkey's body—the mental potential of a human but locked inside an ape—wouldn't that feel empty—or useless—or gone.
And watching the goons on the field—
—playing their silly games—
—which damage their brains with every tackle—
—watched from above by enormous birds—
—that will pick every one of them off—
—these are the thoughts in my head—
—scraped out as if via ice cream scoop—
—tell me the time, if you can—
"Tell me the time?" It's Norma: "Tell me the time?"
"Don't you have a cell phone?"
"My battery ran out."
"Norma. It's about 4:30."
"I'm not taking my hands out of my pockets for you!"
"It's about 4:30!!" she yells out to the field. Then she sits next to me. "You know, when Ian died we all thought it was Evan—you know, not an accident. You know? Like open season—right? Like Ian's gay?—Don't you think? And I was like: we're all gay, you know? I mean all of us—deep down—everyone is gay (like Nirvana says?) So I'm gay—and I think you are too. So what I'm wondering is: will you take me? Will you take me to Never Never Land?"
I look Norma in the face.
"Fucking take yourself!" I say—and I get up and hop off the bleachers.
I'm walking my bike away from the field when Norma says:
"Leave me alone!"
"Ho—hold up. Abby."
"I didn't come here to talk to you—I don't want to talk to you now!"
"Hold up I'm sorry!"
I turn around.
"It's too late! It's too late. I'm sitting there watching practice and you harass me—you're making fun of me for being gay—don't you know that's what happens to me every day? Every fucking day of my life!"
"I'm not," Norma says. "I'm not making fun of you."
"Oh yeah? Well. Being gay isn't something you try on for a day. You're either gay or you're not—understand?"
"I get you—I get you!"
"Then why are you asking me to take you to Never Never Land? Is that some kind of a joke?"
"It's not a joke—I think I'm gay!"
"Norma! What the fuck! Soon, everyone in this school is going to be gay."
"Did you take Evan to Never Never Land?"
"Yes. But Evan..is gay!"
"I don't think he is."
"He is..trust me."
"How do you know?"
"Because. Everything he ever did—his entire life—is gay!"
"Is that why you killed him?"
"What are you talking about?"
"Is that why you held him under?"
"Norma. You don't know what you're talking about so excuse me if I leave."
"You can leave if you want but everybody knows."
I drop my bike and walk up to Norma.
"Bitch: you better keep your mouth shut."
"It's too late," she says. "Everyone knows."
"But you know what's great? No one cares. Just like no one will care if you have a hunting accident, or fall from a tree. You wanna be gay in this town? Fucking..announce that shit with a sign on your locker and see what happens to you."
"No one would believe it," Norma says.
"That's because..it isn't true," I say, and I take my bike and go.
But Norma follows.
"Will you, though? Will you take me to Never Never Land?"
"Listen, bitch: don't make fun of the gay kids. That's why we're killing each other—and ourselves—you're making this an intolerable environment for them—for us—got it?"
"I'm not making fun of you, though—Abby? I'm not."
I pull the breaks on my bike and turn halfway to Norma.
"I'm not your fucking tour guide—ok? You wanna go to Never Never Land? Fucking go. Maybe I'll see you there. You and I weren't friends before this all started and we're not friends now."
Having said what I wanted to say, I leave Norma and start down the road, but that insistent little bitch follows.
"Abigail? Abby? I really think I'm gay."
"It's not my problem."
"Can you help me?"
"No. I can't. If you follow me one more step I'll kick your ass."
That stopped her. I could tell by the sounds she made that she was staying put—that I had the road to myself—that Norma's gayness or not-gayness was stuck back there somewhere, pondering whether she was gay and watching me recede from her view.
As I rode, I thought of Evan riding beside me—as we had many times.
I would say: "Well, Evan—I think we sparked a movement."
And Evan would say: "Abby, I think you're right."
"We did it without even trying!"
And you would say: "Abigail, something I know to be true: If you're honest in your actions, people will follow you."
"But even gayness?" I said.
"Maybe more people are bi than you think."
"So..what? Everyone goes to Never Never Land? Just to try it out?"
"Who are you to judge what they're trying—or who they are—how they were born—who this life made them to be? Norma might be gayer than you—she just doesn't know it yet."
"She might be..she totally might be. You can't judge her."
"I don't want to judge her. I just want everyone to know how hard this has been for me—for you!—and I don't want little 10th grade tourists who don't even know their sexuality yet barging in and showing up at Never Never!!"
"Dude," Evan says. "Chill."
We ride a bit in silence.
"Where are you?" I ask.
"Where am I?"
"That's what I said—where are you?"
"I'm nowhere," Evan looks at me, surprised.
"Well. You're in my head," I say.
"Actually, that's just your anticipation of what I'd say. The real me is gone."
"I disagree," I say. "The you that's built into my brain is partly the real you."
"Then I guess you know how I feel and what I'd say to everything you'd say to everything I'd say to everything you'd say."
"I'm gonna stop in the Amish Supply Store up here..get some candy."
"Great. I'll come with you."
"What does that even mean?"
"I don't know," Evan says. "But I could use some candy, too."
"What are you gonna get?"
"I don't know—what do you think I'm gonna get?"
"Evan, you know, I really don't care."
"Maybe I should wait outside."
"Before I try to figure that one out, I'd like to say: thank you for being my friend. And thank you for being around..today..so that I can talk to you. Because really you're my best friend."
Evan drops his bike outside the shop door. He raises his arms and stretches his ankles and knees.
I say: "Is that sick? That you're still my BFF?"
"No," Evan says. "You can still be my BFF. Just be aware..of who you're talking to..and where..and why."
"I didn't really kill you..did I?"
"I think we did it together," Evan says.
"You wanted to die—right?"
"Yes, I did—very much."
And..I was at the Amish Supply Store—just me and..me.
And..I went inside to get some licorice, the door bell clanging behind me.
Past rows upon rows upon rows upon rows of every available flavor of looseleaf tea and coffee bean and especially candy sticks, in the back: two women working bagging and measuring portions and the younger of the two looks up at me and says:
"Can I help you?"
"Yes," I say, leaning on the counter. "I have a question."
The older one keeps bagging product while the younger raises her eyebrows.
"What is it?" she asks.
"So: you know how the Amish cheese factory is no longer run by Amish people?—Are you aware of this?"
Now the old one looks up and it's all three of us in this dog and pony show.
"That's what I heard, anyway."
"The name of the factory is Northeast Penn Manufacturing," says the old woman.
"Ok," I say. "So where does that leave us?"
"That's different than the name on the door."
"Which is Amish Cheese Factory or something?"
"Correct!" the young girl says, offering me a stick of peppermint.
"But how is that ok?"
"There's no law about what name you put on the door," the girl says. Then she turns to her mom. "Would you get me some twist ties?"
And the mother leaves, and the Amish girl and me are the only ones in the store.
"Are you real Amish?" I say.
"No," says the girl.
"Then why are you in here with that costume? Is it just for the marketing?"
"Have you heard of Rumspringa?" the Amish girl asks.
"I don't know what you're talking about," I say.
"It means 'jump around'—it's when we're 16, we go out among the English and fuck it up," she says. "We drink, smoke, fuck—whatever we want. Most of us come back and join the church. Some of us stay out."
"What are you gonna do?"
"I'm gonna stay out. I'm moving to California."
"Have you ever even been to California?"
"No—that's what's exciting!"
"What about your parents?"
"What about them?"
"I mean—are you going to keep in touch?"
"Not at first. They don't have a telephone!" she laughs. Then she leans close to me. "They wear the clothes but they're retiring to Florida on the profits of the supply shop next year."
The girl holds out a piece of peppermint which I reluctantly take. I always thought this place was Amish—hence Amish peppermint—hence now what the fuck kind of peppermint is it?
Biting down on the stick, I look the shop from end to end: fluorescent lighting, stacks and stacks of plastic dispenser units. Then back to the girl.
"So is anyone in this town Amish?" I say.
"Not really," the girl says casually—
—and her mom walks back in. She slaps down the bundle of twist ties. I look from mother to daughter, daughter to mother, with I'm sure a confused look on my face.
The mother and daughter smile at me—both.
I start to question their realism, but instead I say:
"Ok well I'll take two non-Amish licorice sticks, please."
And I took those two non-Amish licorice sticks outside and leaned against the non-Amish supply store, hoping someone would walk by and I could be like: "Step inside for all your non-Amish needs." I was the brat of the store—blocking the entrance—waiting for someone to come so I could tell them off: "Enter ye here who want a non-Amish experience—you who are scared of interacting with actual Amish, not knowing when you can take a picture, never knowing what to talk about (sports, TV, YouTube—all off limits). Enter here you who don't mind a mindless commercial experience based on your fear of and dislike for Amish people, thinking they're above you (or that they think that they're above you) or that maybe they are above you (and all your commercialistic bullshit is actually worth nothing). Enter ye here who hate the Amish—for you'll find no Amish here."
But no one came. No one came. No one will ever come by this street if you stand here waiting—it's that un-busy—that seldom tread—it's just the emptiness of northeast Pennsylvania.
With a bunch of northeastern Pennsylvanians doing their thing: which basically involved listening to the police scanners to be nosy, eating food like scrapple to bind one's identity to the area, and staying inside all winter except the day of open season—upon which the crimes are committed that we talk about for the rest of the year.
I turn my head with a licorice stick in my mouth: The Amish pretenders are inside, bundling up stick candy and pre-bagging nuts and granola. I wonder if it goes the other way—if they could leave the Amish, could I join? Was there some weekend where all the English could become Amish for a while, go to church and work the farm and work in non-Amish businesses—at the end of which plainness I could simply decide to become Amish? Seems like there should be—like in Witness—didn't he become Amish in the end?—I don't remember.
Working on my second stick, past lamenting there being no one around to tell this Amish supply store's dirty little secret to, my sentiment deepened and turned inward, and I became mad at my ex-friend Evan—mad at him for leaving me—even though I helped him go.
A fucking bastard, that Evan—if he had waited a couple days he wouldn't have felt the same and that's where the anger flowed at myself—fucking bastard.
We could be standing here eating licorice sticks.
Standing here outside the Amish supply store—cracking jokes!
If he were still alive, we could have those good-ol'-time comedic exchanges in my room—he could show me what porn he looks at.
But of course he was dead—his body probably moved inside, to the hospital for examination—and the water at Miller's Creek and my weight laid 'im out dead—because of me he was never coming back.
There's a momentum to death. It starts out glacial—like moving an 18 wheeler. Slow to get going—wide turns, blocking the road. Then the torque takes force, and you're on the highway (entry ramp) going from turtle to hare. And ultimately, you've got the thing going—maybe not as fast as the little cars—but with unstoppable inertia.
That's how my life had been going the last two weeks. I was in the fast lane now.
Shifting, listening to my radio. Sleeping compartment in the back—milk jugs filled with water.
Death was the job of a trucker—few people knew me on the road (and the ones I did know, I soon left)—when I returned to home, the people I knew were silent, taking their part of my check to feed themselves and their children, their girlfriends other than me, their dogs, their cats, their pets—and the random pets from outside (stray felines and canines and such).
And when I came home, my role was to sit in the corner of an empty room (drinking cocoa) and entertaining myself with sundries from the Amish supply store in all their magic, glory, pride.
When I was at home I stayed away from Mom. Her perception was too raw—too right on—and I didn't want to hear it.
When I was at school I stayed away from previous friends, previous enemies: it felt as if they were all mixed into a soup right now, and I couldn't even trust one not to turn into the other, overnight. That girl Norma from football practice, for example: what a fucking bitch every day before I killed Evan..then miraculously she's my BFF (wanting BFF-style check-ins throughout the day—at my locker—on the field—before school—after school—et-fucking-cetera). I was indisposed, unavailable, always heading to class, from class, needed to pee (No, don't escort me to the bathroom!) needed to rush home, had homework to do, meetings with teachers, behavioral problems (required visit to the principal) non-Amish candy delivery, must run errands, must go to Binghamton—must must must go to Never Never Land.
And the friends turning against? I didn't have too many friends, so this was minimal, but I did have a pseudo set of girlfriends that tolerated me (or used to) but now that I was wearing the scarlet letter these bitches gave me the scarecrow eye before I sat down and that was it—I wasn't aloud to sit there anymore—had to find my own table and everything—which came with no one else sitting there and me with no distractant conversation..my mind had every space it needed to fill the air with made-up stories in which I was the one and only bad guy.
Then there was the book—Ian's bird book?
I developed feelings toward it.
I moved it every time I went home—sometimes in plain sight on the downstairs bookshelf (even Mom didn't notice it there) sometimes under the washing machine (laid flat) sometimes I slept with it underneath my pillow. But no matter where I leave it, the book induces my dreams and I wake (sweaty) with villains on my heels, their names of Ian, their names of Evan, and their names of me.
Images of Evan surfaced like leaves on the stream.
I found myself communicating through the book with Evan's spirit and (via Evan) with Ian's as well—I carried it and talked to it like a best friend and confidant—and sometimes, on the rare, it talked back.
It said Evan was doing well being gay in heaven (which was actually below the Earth)—he missed me and hoped he could see me soon—postmark! Through Evan, I contacted Ian. Ian said he didn't mind being shot in the head and dick from behind (that in fact it had been a good thing). He thanked Evan and wished me such goodness that I had to brush him off as with a whisk—too much a recipe of flour and eggs making waffles with impudence. And pancakes, too—all sorts of constructions. Ian was always very very buttery for me (if you know what I mean—there are only certain types of gay guys I can get along with).
I asked Evan if he was glad I drown'd him—he said yes.
I said how can you be glad? Evan said it was less complicated.
What makes it less complicated, I say.
He says the tall white beings (dwarves) take care of him.
I asked him about these dwarves: where do they come from?
He tells me some long-ass story about the celestial history of the dwarves or elves (whatever) but I guess I wasn't interested 'cause my mind drifted to next Friday when I would return to Never Never without my friend and hopefully find that server girl and get her to finish the job of licking my pussy.
Then Evan's spirit tapped me on the shoulder.
Are you listening, he asked.
Kinda, I said. But I'm in reverie about that server from last week.
Last week what? Evan said.
Last week when that hot server was licking my pussy out back behind Never Never Land—before I saw you? I want to get to her again, have her lick my puss—that sort of thing. I'd actually like to take the bird book with me and read from it while she does me—I could use a thing like that in my life—a bird book to carry with me everywhere—reading—memorizing—reciting to strangers when they approach me—stuff like that. Did you find comfort in it?
Yes, Evan said.
And it came to me that I was sitting at my table in the lunchroom—all by myself—talking to myself, with the bird book next to my lunch bag which only had two pieces of bread and some almonds in it.
When the bell rang, my almonds were arranged in what to me represented a bird attack on my crackhead sandwich—diving, drooping, dripping on my empty bread and I swept it all up in the paper bag that had brought it here, avoiding the looks of my classmates ostrich style by simply not looking at them (it spared the shame).
In class I sat in the back left corner (quarterback style)—I liked to see the whole room.
I took out my book and opened it to the page we were on. Then I tore a piece of notebook paper in half (vertically) and wrote a note to my friend:
I suspect you can read the realities, scoop in on this classroom like a boss and sit yourself on my shoulder. It's cold by the window and I miss your funky ass sitting in front of me in here. You know Mrs. Tedesco is a racist, classist Constitutionalist (even this far north) and sooner or later in this hour she will be seen to go off on a rage against black people who have moved to Binghamton over her lifetime—it's staggering, really, how many people take this to be the problem of their lifetimes.
I miss you most of all, rumples (even though I sent you down the stream) and I hope you'll allow an extra nickname or two—I'll try not to use them but you know what difficulty I have in avoiding such things, especially in writing (where I come across as quite grand, rather stable, and such a gorilla genius that I admire me me me all completely out of proportion).
Please: if you can hear me, move my hand. Place a mark on this paper. Let me know you're here so I can stop worrying and take myself out from under arrest—free me, will you boy?
In all Seriousness,
Sincerely and With Love,
I folded that one into a nice little note strip which had a triangle sticking out one end that if you pull on it, opens the note. Then I wrote on the other half:
I decided to write to you instead of God because it's easier for me to believe in you—given what I've seen of this life. I'm asking for you to take my spirit and teach me—hold me—scold me into something you could use. I have proved to be quite useless in my life so far and I figured you might have some ideas (you seem like a creative chap).
I think I've proven I can be useful in—(your sort of crime)—all I want in return is a girl to lick my pussy—(someone hot like the server at Never Never Land)—and to finish me off so I don't have to jerk it to the sounds of gay boys shit-fucking each other.
Killing my friend was excruciating—I hardly have the heart to tell the readers of this book what a shit show the funeral was (it was a shit show). I left early. It's hard to stick around at the funeral of your friend who you killed at his instruction—at his demand. I feel like there is a force running through this town—eking out the good ones and turning us bad. I know that the use of simplistic master symmetries like those is not helpful but I'm sure you'll understand if I do—I'm only trying to make this easier to read (for those who might try) and much simpler if anyone ever tries to paint it (as in the ways of a cover). Surely you would not begrudge me that.
There is more I would like to get down, but perhaps I can do it when I get there.
Abigail Elizabeth Temple full name used out of respect
Your Servant Large
and Fantastic Orgasmic Teen
Then I folded up that note with the quick-release triangle and fiddled with the window to my left, pulling the bottom part of the glass out before classmates were like:
And Mrs Tedesco was like:
And I was like:
"Look: fuck you!"
And she was all:
"You gotta go to the bathroom?"
And I removed the upper part of the window and placed it on your desk (in front of me) and I had my book bag out and I threw it outside and reversed myself (my body) out and out! down the side of the school and plopped myself in the snow and I wiped off my pants and hefted my bag and continued across the football field with no jacket, no gloves, and no hat. And I turned back to the school (once) and took in the sight of an AP history classroom all up on the windows screaming, yelling, throwing paper out the window and I concluded that I had made the right choice to leave them just as I had—to leave the zoo full of gorillas and supplant my once-current journey with them for the tree line ahead of me where I would surely be (aside from animals and hunters) alone.
Turning and churning (aside) I entered the slope of trees. Branches of deciduous and leaves of the evergreens melted together like CERN—mixing the particles of everything into what they say the world was like one second after the big bang—they say that it happened like a strike of lightning—that that first second is the longest one—that after that first second happened, the world was what it almost is today: a half-assed collection of sperm and egg and dilettantes covering as students, idiots masquerading as teachers, and a whole school of that nonsense 10 minutes behind me as I disappear into the snow and trees and I think to myself: I will never go back again.
Never—never once!—will I go back there again. Not physically, not mentally—not in any way. Maybe this is the day—this is the day!—that I leave this town and never come back.
Leave this town and never come back, like a dog on a journey (or a deer)—sinking into the woods—being rendered invisible—and following the wind to my next destination.
If I went to jail, that would be a destination—but this small town cannot even afford me that. I am a wanderer with no country, no friends, no family—not one that holds me accountable. I only have Mom—who only has morals for herself, who never judges me (ever) and keeps on her Christian shelf Christian books, while on her upstairs shelf she keeps pagan secrets: tarot decks, incense, and the like. She doesn't even believe in God (not the way you were taught to when you were a kid) and each sermon is a delicately manicured garden of words you could not slice through with a kid-sized toothbrush. Ask her sometime—straight out—Do you believe in God?—and see what kind of monkey answer she gives you.
I was born in a different place—the land of straightness (if you can believe it)—a land where I give straight answers to straight questions and so does everyone else.
And I am from a land of softness—where a person's words, arms, and elbows are all soft as a teddy bear (as my Buster Bear) where everything a person says is designed to comfort and help (not hurt) where no remark is quick, where you'll rarely find a debate.
And..I am from the land of another kind of softness (volume)—a land where every voice is douce/gentle/sedate—where every voice seems to be putting me to sleep—where just listening to someone gives up control to them, as their very words can entrap you with their lack of volume.
I think that's the kind of sorcerer I am—a sorcerer of volume.
When Evan ran quick, I covered him up—didn't I?
And that school ran quick—I covered her up, too.
When Ian ran quick, he was covered by Evan—before that I cannot say 'cause I wasn't around. But (sufficient to say) there had been a whole lot of covering as I grew up and before—before I ever moved to this desert of a forest, where people pretended it was 200 years ago—like they had just sailed over from Europe and staked their claim—these were the people too lazy and stupid (and unadventurous) to go any further west so they just settled right away on the top of an icy mountain—America's doormat—LeRaysville PA. I wonder if there were Amish people back then.
Of course this whole time I've been trunching, trunching through the woods and I come out now to a clearing—a road—right behind the location of the only other place (besides the Amish supply store) where you can get food in LeRays.
It's called the sandwich shop and I don't know any other name it goes by.
You can buy a cheesesteak there.
I walk around front and go inside. Shiela is there, reading a Nylon magazine (Evan Rachel Wood on its cover) and I go up to the counter. Shiela puts down the mag and comes to me.
"You want a cheesesteak?"
"No. No. I just want to talk to someone who makes sense."
"No one makes sense around here—you know that."
I smile and reach my hands across the counter.
Shiela takes them—she looks me in the eyes.
"You come from school?" she asks.
"Yeah and I don't think I'm going back," I say. "I have these recurring dreams—it's senior year—I'm at school—but it's always the last week or so of class and I'm back—back here!—from being out there!—you know?—and I'm back and I'm like: What the fuck am I doing back here? Everyone else is older but I'm still the same age. Do you know what this means?"
I grip Shiela's arms tighter.
"It means..that you should have a cheesesteak?"
"I'm serious, girl—what this shit means?"
"I don't know—I'm not a dream interpreter. But you can sit here as long as you want—" (I'm the only one here) "—and muse over that shit."
"I'm serious, Shiels. I've got some fucked-up karma inside me."
"Well," she says, "that shit'll come back when it's ready."
"That's the truth," I say. "But I sure wish I could pre-empt."
"You want a sandwich or anything?"
"You know what I want? I want everyone to know—that I'm mad. Right? I'm extremely mad. I'm mad at people who could'a been my friend but were too selfish to give me a breath in the conversation. I'm mad at people I hardly knew who blew my friend's cover about being gay. I'm mad at—my mom."
"Keep going, girl."
"You wanna go?"
"I want you to keep going—you're on a roll."
"Right—thank you—well. I'm mad that we live in a town with drug-dealer cops!"
"Right on—I hear you."
"You know about that shit?"
"Girl I'm on that shit."
"Fuck," I say. "That's fucked up! You are?"
"Fuck!" I say. "I gotta get out of here! Like—right the fuck away."
I go to the door.
"You goin'?" Shiela says. "I mean..you going?"
I look at her and I nod.
"You really going?" she says, excited.
"Yes I am," I say. "And you know what else? I'm going for good."
"All the way, girl," Shiela says.
"I'm leaving," I say.
"I'm never coming back here even for a cheesesteak."
"Do it, girl. Be gone—and stay gone."
"I will," I say.
And Shiela smiles at me.
I bow grandly and let myself out.
But that's not what happened—should I tell you what happened? I will.
I let the wood door slam behind me.
I walked down the street that the sandwich shop is on.
I headed along the big turn to the right—toward the overpass—because the overpass was calling me.
It called me like the sound of planes, the sound of traffic and the sight of people from everywhere going everywhere—I wish I had my own car right now so I could go and go and go.
I hoped there would be no cars, so no one from town would see me going.
If possible, I would be invisible, to aid in my going.
I had my wallet—that's all I needed (and a little money for the bus, maybe, in Binghamton)—I wasn't thinking clearly.
I was full of impulse—
—full of danger. I wanted the police to catch me. I wanted Connor, specifically, to ask me if I needed a ride.
I wanted Ian and Evan back—I wanted everything.
I wanted to be a boy, so I could adequately go hunting on the first day of open season and shoot anyone I wanted.
Shouldn't that be the way it was?—Everyone, in their life, gets to kill one other person (no questions asked)—It's lovely—It's forward thinking—It's Divinity in Motion (per Michael).
Divinity in Motion, per Michael Jackson (a man I do wish I could carry with me at all times) without all the black-on-black shit—I mean, come on, I'm white so I can't like Michael Jackson?
This is my divine spark—
—my cabin in the deep deep woods where no one else can go. My anchor. My feet that dance down the street as I know not where I go. My movable cabin—my shell—my house upon my back.
Why can't I have that? Is it something I've done? Does living without your home mean that you can't be smart—? Those are my thoughts as I come around a bend and I'm met with a bridge—the highway bridge—that bridge without a fence.
Without anything, exactly, to keep one from jumping—a place we came in our junior years to walk along the edge—to prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt—that we weren't afraid of anything. We could have died—could have died—prancing along on the concrete—one side a drop of three feet, the other a drop of 30 into the middle of a constant stream of cars. If you jumped you would break your legs..and then get hit by a car. It would be drastic.
And that is where I sat—not stood—but sat, waiting for the courage to jump, my feet dangling street side, knowing it would be (almost) quick and (almost) painless. This was the eventuality we played with, back then, and now I was playing it full force—seriously—with bullets in the gun.
A plane flew far above, but not so far that I couldn't hear its sound—whining and whining and whining its way home.
That's what I wanted: a flight path, engine fuel, a destination—anything—but nothing would come. Not a fucking thing.
I would go to Erie—study nursing. But I got more flash forwards—this time it was me and an imaginary husband fighting over where we would live (Portland or Austin) and getting married in a Starbucks (which my generation is wont to do) and the kids being a big fucking problem—we'd have three and each would have a progressively worse degenerative nerve disease caused by friction in the atmosphere—chem trails—Philadelphia experiments—etcetera. Truly, I imagine these things—these flash forwards—and I am sure they will come true—no other possibility can be imagined—but then they never come true—they're never the real of what happens.
So why worry myself (you might say) with wild imaginings?
To me they're not imaginings.
To me, they're the creepy creepy future of my life.
To some of you, your imaginings are of light and humor—mine simply are not. They are the rumors of death—of decay—of mistakes run wild and the itching of a drug I have never tried. I know I will—I know I will!—try that drug if I go to Austin. Try it in a party or the local version of Never Never Land.
I reach back and rummage around my book bag.
The book is there.
The bird book.
I pull it around, set it beside me.
The wind almost blows it off but I peg it with my hand.
Am I going to kill myself with this thing?
This book—of paper and ink and glue?
It has become a curse between us—the LeRaysville three.
It has become a dark dark curse—this tiny bird book—rattling around from person to person—and each of us, who owns it, dies.
Is that how it goes?
I thumb through it—red-headed woodpecker, great-crested flycatcher, on and on with its ornate drawings (pen and ink colored in with swatches of reds and blues and yellows and browns—all the colors of the rainbow). Then I throw the book onto the road—while it's open—it flutters down—pages flipping in cold wind—falling, falling—and landing on its spine, mid-lane—and I imagine throwing myself down there, too—spread my wings, learn to fly—just for a moment, before the end—before breaking my legs and getting hit by a Mack truck.
But I don't have to go.
I could stand from my seat, turn from the lower road, and keep walking—home or away—home or away—
A small car (Subaru?) runs over the bird book, flattening its pages.
And I have an inkling to go get it.