The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen (3 page)

BOOK: The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen
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He stared at me for what felt like a whole minute. I stared right back. “Tell me about your T-shirt,” he finally said. “Who’s the guy?”

“It’s the Great Dane.”

Cecil looked at me blankly.

“From the GWF.”

Another blank look.

“The Global Wrestling Federation? ‘Saturday Night Smash-Up,’ ‘Monday Night Meltdown’?” Inside I was thinking,
Holy Moly, do you live under a rock?

“Oh. I’ve heard of them. I don’t own a TV,” he said. A little smugly, if you ask me.

“ ‘Saturday Night Smash-Up’ is my favorite show,” I told him. In fact, it was my entire family’s favorite show. Mom would make a huge bowl of popcorn, and we’d all gather round the TV every Saturday night, even in the months leading up to IT. We all had a favorite wrestler: Mom’s was El Toro; Dad’s was the Twister. Jesse’s was the same as mine.

“Tell me about the Great Dane,” Cecil said.

“He weighs 198 pounds. That sounds like a lot, but in the GWF, he’s a pip-squeak. He wears tight red trunks with white trim and white lace-up boots, and he has short spiked blond hair. His upper body is straight out of Popeye. His signature move is the Body Splash.”

“The Body Splash?”

I did my best to describe it to Cecil. “Say his opponent is sprawled on the mat. The Great Dane climbs the ropes that surround the ring. He crouches down low.… ” For this part, I stood up on my chair to demonstrate. “Then he
into the air. For a moment, it looks like he’s flying. Then he lands, stomach-first, across his opponent’s chest.

I got down on my stomach on his tiny office floor for effect. It was disgusting down there – armies of dust bunnies and a carpet encrusted with bits of old food. “Imagine the letter
,” I said, standing up quickly and brushing myself off. “That’s what it would look like from above.”

“Holy Moly,” said Cecil. “Sounds violent.”

I rolled my eyes. “It’s more than that. There are story lines and everything. It’s super-exciting. High stakes. Good versus evil.”

“Why is the Great Dane your favorite?”

“Because,” I said, a little impatient. “He’s one of the good guys. He’s a babyface. And he always has to fight the heels – these huge, butt-ugly bad guys.”

“Does he win?”

“Once in a while. Mostly he loses.”

“So he’s an underdog.”


For some reason, Cecil started nodding a lot, like we were having a meaningful conversation.

“You never know what’s going to happen next,” I continued. “Wrestlers who’ve been heels for years become babyfaces, and vice versa. Just when you think you’ve got someone pegged, he switches sides.”

“So, nobody is one hundred percent good or evil,” he said. “Just like real life.”

“Exactly! I bet Stalin opened a door for an old lady once, or hugged his mom. And maybe Mother Teresa spanked a kid, or stole a chocolate bar.”

“I bet the Great Dane was Jesse’s favorite, too. Am I right?”

Suddenly I had goose bumps. How had he figured that out? It gave me the creeps. “I plead the Fifth,” I said.

“Do you even know what that means?”

“I saw it on a TV show. It means
I’m not answering the question and you can’t make me

Cecil smiled. “Okay. Session’s almost over, anyway.” He stood up and pumped my hand. “I think we made good progress today, Henry.”

I was like,
What? All we talked about was wrestling!!

I don’t mind Cecil. He seems like an okay guy. But there’s a joke my dad told me once that describes Cecil perfectly: “What do you call a guy who gets fifty-one percent in medical school?

11:00 p.m.

We had take-out pizza again for dinner. I forced myself to eat only four slices.

Dad drank only one beer with his Rapiflux pill. He started taking Rapiflux about four months ago. I thought it was to help with indigestion or something, till I looked it up on Dad’s laptop. Rapiflux is another brand name for Fluoxetine. Which is another word for Prozac. Which, according to the website, “increases one’s sense of well-being, counteracting tendencies to depression.”

We were eating our pizza in front of the TV when the phone rang. We don’t have call display ’cause it’s extra, but I knew who it was.


“Hi, Henry.”

Yup. Mom.

“How’s my Smaller Fry?” She’s called me that my whole life. Jesse was Small Fry. I guess if she’d had a third kid, he would have been Smallest Fry.


“How’s the new school?” She asks me this every time.


“Let me guess – your favorite class is English?”


“You’ve always had a way with words.”

There was a long silence after this, which my English teacher, Mr. Schell, would say was a fine example of irony.

“How’s Dad?”

I looked over at Dad, who was gazing at a spot somewhere east of the TV. “Good,” I said. “ ‘Saturday Night Smash-Up’ is about to start.”

This was followed by another long pause, then she said, “I’m sorry, Henry.” And just like all the other phone calls, she started to cry. And just like all the other phone calls, I passed the phone to my dad because I am tired of her tears.

Dad took the phone into his bedroom and closed the door. I listened to the rise and fall of their voices. Sometimes Dad shouts on these calls, but tonight he talked quietly, and after twenty minutes or so, he joined me back on the couch. He gave me a big smile. It was the phoniest smile ever, but I appreciated the effort. “So what’d I miss?”

I told him that the Great Dane had lost his match against Vlad the Impaler, who’d brought him down with a Bionic Elbow (which means he smashed his elbow on top
of the Great Dane’s head). Vlad also gave the Dane the old Testicular Claw, which is pretty much what it sounds like. It’s illegal, but Vlad waited till the ref turned away, so he didn’t get caught.

Now Dad’s in his room, and I’m in mine. In the ad on Craigslist, the apartment was advertised as
one bdrm + den
. I am in the
. I think
was a misprint and the owner really meant to write

Our building is a four-storey gray stucco box from the 1960s that sits right on Broadway, the busiest street in Kitsilano. It’s called the Cedar Manor, a fancy name that is
not deserved. In fact, if I were to describe the Manor in one word, that word would be “ugly.” The orange, green, and brown carpeting in the corridors looks like it hasn’t been cleaned since the place was built. The walls are grimy. The lights are fluorescent and they hum.

But I’m not complaining. Vancouver is a way more expensive city to live in than Port Salish, and with Dad not having his own business anymore and Mom not working and the Marlin family launching a lawsuit, I figure I’m lucky we’re not living in a pup tent in Stanley Park.

Besides, here in Vancouver we are completely anonymous. In Port Salish, everyone knew everyone. I liked that, growing up. But after IT happened, it was a curse.

Still, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss our house. It was a real honest-to-goodness home, with a yard and everything. It wasn’t fancy, but Jesse and I had our own bedrooms, which was good because Jesse was a pig. I, on the other hand, am neat and tidy. “Bordering on anal retentive,” I once heard my mom tell my dad, when she didn’t know I was listening.

So what if I like everything in its proper place? My room here is half the size of my room in Port Salish, but my poster of the Great Dane is still perfectly centered over my bed, which I make every morning with hospital corners. I have a portable shelving unit in my closet, where I fold my socks and underwear. Everything else – jeans, sweatshirts, T-shirts, mostly in shades of blue or gray – is on hangers. I can’t stand a wrinkly T-shirt. You could say I’m obsessed with a neat if nondescript appearance and personal hygiene in general. Some people think that if you’re fat, you’re also dirty, but that is false. Just because I have wobblies doesn’t mean I don’t shower and use a high-powered deodorant.

Near the end, it was obvious that Jesse wasn’t using deodorant. Or showering. Or changing his clothes as often as he should. He tried to mask his b.o. with AXE bodyspray, which only made it worse.

We barely talked to each other in the six months leading up to IT, and when we did, it wasn’t very nice.

“Quit stinking up the can, Meatloaf,” he’d say to me most mornings because a) my system is like clockwork, and I always have a dump first thing in the morning, and b) I was already a little bit on the chubby side.

“Bite me, Pizza Face,” I’d retort. Then I’d catch a whiff of his b.o. “
, you think my

“Small Fry, why don’t you have a quick shower?” my mom would say when we joined her in the kitchen. “It’ll take you five minutes. I’ll make you some cinnamon toast for when you get out.”

“I don’t want any f—ing cinnamon toast. Leave me the f— alone.” Jesse swore a lot during those last six months.

Then he’d storm out of the room, and my mom would try not to cry.

He never used to talk to her like that. To me, sure, but that’s what brothers do. He and Mom, though, they were tight. Bonded. Like Super Glue.

I couldn’t help but envy them in a fairly big way. I wanted what they had, but I also knew I never could, because Jesse was her firstborn. They’d had two whole years to fall in love with each other before I came along.

I saw this movie once, when I was home with a fever. It was on some cable channel, and I have no idea why I watched it because it was seriously old, but I guess I was so feverish I couldn’t even lift the remote. Anyway, it was called
Ordinary People
, and it was about a family with two sons. The boys had been in a boating accident, and the older one drowned and the younger one survived. The mom was so mean to her younger son! And she finally admitted that she wished he’d died, instead.

I’m not saying that my mom has had the same thought. But it’s just another thing that knocks around in my head sometimes, when I picture her in a loony bin on the other side of the country, far away from us.

It’s something I think about when sleep won’t come.

1:00 a.m.

Speaking of sleep. It is highly overrated. Sleep + IT = Nightmares. Blood. Gore.
Plastic yellow tube slides.

2:00 a.m.

What’s-his-head from next door, Mr. Atapattu, is watching the Home Shopping Network again. I can hear it through the wall. “Order your Slap-Happy today!”

What a freak.

, J

In 1929, this man named Noah John Rondeau decided he’d had enough of people, so he became a hermit. He lived alone in the Adirondack Mountains and called himself Mayor of Cold River City, Population: 1.

Before IT happened, I would have said this guy was a weirdo. But now I get it. It’s not that I suddenly don’t like people; it’s just that I can’t engage with them
all the time
. These days, a little bit goes a long way, if that makes any sense. Dad usually doesn’t get back from his construction jobs till after six, and that suits me just fine. After a full day of classes and teachers and now Farley, I need some quality hermit time when I get home.

But try telling that to the Vultures.

Vulture 1: Karen Vargas – Apt. 311

Dad and I had barely started carrying stuff from our U-Haul up to our apartment three weeks ago, when Karen stepped out of the building and marched right up to our truck. She was wearing a short skirt and a top that showed off way too much flesh in the boobular area. Her shoes were what my mom would call highly impractical. I think she thought she looked youthful, but she didn’t; she must be as old as my mom.

She held a paper plate full of cookies.

“Howdy, neighbors,” she said as she handed my dad the plate. “Just a little housewarming treat. Baked them myself last night.”

My dad just looked at her like he was in a drug-induced stupor, which, come to think of it, he was.

“Oh. Thanks,” he said.

“My name’s Karen. Karen Vargas.” She waited for my dad to tell her his name, but since IT happened, Dad often forgets basic social skills.

“And your name is?” she finally asked.

“Pete. Pete Larsen. This is my son, Henry.”

“Nice to meet you, Pete. And Henry,” she added, not even looking at me. “You guys must be moving into 211?”

My dad nodded.

“I’m directly upstairs from you. 311. Did you know the last tenant in your place was running a meth lab?”

That roused my dad a little bit. I know I perked up.

“Seriously?” I asked, even though she still didn’t look at me.

“Didn’t the landlord tell you? No, why would he? Probably thought it would scare you away. The guy who lived there was cooking crystal meth. We only found out ’cause he started a fire one day. The whole building could’ve blown up with all of us inside!”

“Wow.” That’s my dad these days: man of few words.

“I always knew there was something sinister about that guy,” she said, which I didn’t believe for a second. After my brother did what he did, people who barely knew him were quoted in the paper saying things like, “I always felt uneasy around that kid,” or, “He scared me.” Which was a huge steaming pile of bull turds. Jesse never scared anyone.

“If you boys ever need anything, you know where to find me,” she said with a smile, and I thought,
How does she know it’s just us boys? How does she know my mom isn’t going to step out the front door at any moment?
I think she must’ve asked the superintendent who was moving in.

Anyway, Dad just gave Karen a vague half-smile, then the two of us headed into the building, carrying our enormous coffee table. He didn’t thank her for the cookies or anything, just left her shivering on the sidewalk. Which was fine by me. Later that evening, after we’d finished unloading the truck, I unwrapped the cookies. They were so obviously store-bought. Chips Ahoy! is my best guess.

BOOK: The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen
3.17Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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