Authors: Nick Mamatas
© 2012 by Nick Mamatas
Cover artwork © 2012 by Erik Mohr
Interior design © 2012 by Samantha Beiko
All rights reserved.
Published by ChiZine Publications
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either a product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
EPub Edition AUGUST 2012 ISBN: 978-1-92685-172-3
All rights reserved under all applicable International Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on-screen.
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Edited and copyedited by Brett Savory
Proofread by Stephen Michell
We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts, which last year invested $20.1 million in writing and publishing throughout Canada.
Published with the generous assistance of the Ontario Arts Council.
You know who you are.
his is not a story about how to do what I did and survive, and be free. I’m not free. In many of the millions of futures that tumbled forth, that are still rolling and twisting ahead out to the ends of the world since that day, I’m not even alive. She is though, at the end of every strand of fate, tugging on the fabric of life and laughing.
I just happen to think she’s laughing with me, not at me. I hope so. I love her. This is the story of my love for her. It’s a story that I like to tell from the bottom of a little plastic cup.
Tussin. If they only wanted you to take two tablespoons, why would a bottle of the stuff come with a plastic cup that can hold eight? Half a bottle before school, but David Holbrook still uses the little cup instead of just taking a swig out of the bottle. One,
, three. Okay, then a fourth. Then a big handful of Coricidin HBP. It wouldn’t look like Skittles if they weren’t supposed to be eaten by the handful.
To the mirror, Mr. Holbrook
, he thinks. David liked thinking of himself as Mr. Holbrook. He wished he attended an uptight boarding school like on TV, where the teachers called the students Mr. Thomason and Mr. Smythe and the older boys who tortured the freshmen with wristlocks and spittle and the Greek alphabet gave everyone clever nicknames: Foggy, Banger, Lilliput.
David’s actual nickname at school is “Hey Fag.” When he thinks of himself in casual terms, he’s Dave.
. Six. Water, water. Seven.
. Grape-mediciny. Robotrippin’.
To the mirror, Mr. Holbrook
Dave looks into the mirror. He can’t take himself all in at once, not with the drugs still gurgling in his stomach, and not yet completely bathing his brain, but he can look. Two eyes, brown. Red creases like a brand, where his eyeglasses rest on his nose. Hair, too much of it, piled on his head—not long like a dirtbag kid—just thick and wide and untamable. A shoulder, fertile with acne. The crease of a collarbone, hard like the end of a sentence. Streaks of ribs under skin where his pecs should be. That’s enough for now.
Dave flows down the steps, past the empty living room and into the kitchen. His mother sits at the table, somewhat preoccupied by the buzz and flicker of the little black and white TV. “Dave,” she says, “Dave. Good morning.”
She sighs chemically. “Do you want breakfast? I can make you some,” to the TV—the weather will be fine, the traffic is fine—“breakfast. You don’t want any breakfast?” Dave’s stomach gurgles, all grape and trouble. “It’s okay.”
“Yeah, it’s okay.” She rises and tries a half smile. “I’m a little tired, out of sorts, you know. I think I’ll get some rest. I’ll cook you breakfast later.” She shuffles past Dave; the few silvery hairs amidst the L’Oréal Cherry Cordial catch the light, and he stares. Mom turns back to him and offers a languid half smile. “Have fun,” she says, “at school. Be good. Be careful. Okay? Okay.”
Out the door and onto the street. The sun is like butter, smeared everywhere. Dave shakes off the heat from his stomach and the back of his neck, sniffs a bit of tingly grape in his sinuses, and . . .
to school, Mr. Holbrook
. He turns at the end of the block, a right, then a left, then three blocks and a left, onto Pavonia Avenue, where the houses fall away and dusty storefronts yawn, selling faded crap from twenty years before. Sewing machines, American flags faded to pink and baby blue, Coca-Cola cans celebrating June’s big movie—it’s September. Dave is, I was, fifteen, and there was music in the air. Phat beats from passing cars, the bass so heavy that thumps turned to fuzz. Salsa and the haunting wail of Indian music too; the little restaurants on the street—all of them with signs reading No High School Students Before Lunch Thank You (with various creative misspellings and random apostrophes added)—liked to compete with tinny PA systems.
I see him now, walking down the slope of Pavonia Avenue toward the grey slab of high school, his shoulders sinking, his smile wilting. The music is swallowed by the bellows and shrieks of the kids outside. Like the restaurants, they compete on ethnic grounds: clumps of black kids have the curb, the Latinos have taken the steps, a small brace of whites mill about across the street, waiting till the last possible moment before crossing the street to Palisade Avenue and Hamilton High School. Dave isn’t sure if his feet feel heavy and oh so long, as if he’s wearing invisible clown shoes, due to his morning ritual, or just because school is nothing but a horrible prison. Devil’s Island. Island not included.
As the drugs finally push their way up to Dave’s brain, he remembers that he actually likes the school. Not the school as an
, but as a building. It’s a huge Neoclassical Revival building, consuming the whole block, and Palisade meets Newark Avenue on a hill . . . a friggin’ hill like out in the country. It smells like another century. Gods and goddesses stand in stony relief over the entranceway.
is carved into the upper part of the seal over the entrance.
takes up the lower part. Dave thinks he might be the only kid of the 2,700 in school to have actually read the wall as he waits in line to pass through the metal detectors, and he hasn’t looked up since the first day of freshman year.
“Hey, fag!” someone shouts, but since everyone’s a fag, a stupid bitch, a niggah, a
, or an asshole, Dave doesn’t look up. Whoever it is was probably talking to someone else. That’s what he tells himself.
To school, Mr. Holbrook
. That was me, whispering from the Ylem, but he hears it. I think he does. Today is the day. Dave oozes up the steps, his legs leaden, but he’s still the first white kid in school. The others are too afraid of the blacks and Latinos to walk the gauntlet, but Dave figured out long ago that nobody gives two shits about him. He’s a minnow in the sea. The stone walls of the school waver like he’s experiencing a heat fever, even in the cool September air. The half-angry yawps of a thousand taunts and conversations blend into a grinding buzz. Dave walks into school, into the great yawning antechamber that connects the arterial halls, and he looks up.
He is alone, on a plane of existence all his own. Only through the ethereal haze does he see other students—mostly Asian kids with books hugged to their chests, or girls frowning into their pagers, but they are nearly still. Dave thinks of old European churches that he has never seen; he believes the schoolteacher lie about glass being nothing but a very viscous liquid, and how in those cathedrals stained glass bulges and pools in reds and blues ever so slightly over stone sills. The kids are all trapped in glass now, pushing their way through their eternities so slowly that even Dave can barely sense it. He walks past them like he was strolling through a statuary garden, finds homeroom, and slides into his usual desk two rows from the back, to relax for a century or two, until the bell rings and breaks the spell.