The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen (4 page)

BOOK: The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen
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Still, I ate them all in one sitting. Which didn’t help with my wobblies. Not one bit.

Vulture 2: Mr. Atapattu – Apt. 213

Mr. Atapattu knocked on our door while we were unpacking.

“Hello,” he said when I answered. “I am your next-door neighbor, in 213.” He smiled, revealing a mouth full of crooked
yellow teeth. He was dressed neatly in a cardigan and beige pants. I’m guessing he’s in his sixties, but I honestly have no idea. Everyone over thirty just looks old to me.

“I brought you a housewarming treat. Homemade coconut
barfi
.” He held out a plate.

“Barfy?” I repeated.

“It’s an Indian sweet,” he said. “I’m Sri Lankan, but I cook foods from many regions.”

I took the plate to be polite, then my dad came to the door, and he and Mr. Atapattu shook hands. “I just thought I should introduce myself,” Mr. Atapattu continued, with an accent that made each word sound dignified. “It’s important to know your neighbors. You probably heard about the man who lived here before you. Not a good man. I complained that I smelled chemicals, but Yuri, the superintendent, didn’t believe me. He thought I was engaged in a ‘tit for tat’ because a few of the tenants had complained about my cooking smells.”

“Oh,” my dad replied. Yup, he’s a real conversationalist these days.

There was an awkward silence after that. It dawned on me that Mr. Atapattu was hoping we’d invite him in. “If you need any assistance …”

“No, we’re good. But thanks,” said my dad. Mr. Atapattu’s smile quivered slightly as my dad walked away
from the door. I wanted to tell him not to take it personally, that lately my dad is more like a hologram of himself – there, but not there.

Instead, I said, “Thanks for the barf.”

“Barfi.”

Then I closed the door.

The
barfi
was delicious. Way better than Karen’s “homemade” cookies. I ate all the
barfi
in one sitting, too.

Still. I don’t want food from them. I don’t want anything from them, except for them to leave us alone.

But they don’t. When I got home today, Karen was at her mailbox. She was wearing tight jeans and another pair of highly impractical shoes.

“Hey, Harry,” she said with a smile.

“Henry.”

“You and your dad settling in okay?”

I nodded as I opened our mailbox.

“So it’s just the two of you, huh?”

“My mom will be joining us any day now,” I replied.

Her smile vanished. “Oh. Where is she?” she said as she dumped her junk mail onto the ledge in front of the mailboxes.

I wanted to say,
None of your damn business
, but instead I said, “She travels a lot. For work.” Which was a big fat lie, but whatever.

When I finally escaped Vulture 1, Vulture 2 pounced.

Mr. Atapattu poked his head out just as I was unlocking our door. I swear he stands there, staring through the peephole, waiting for someone to walk past. “Good day, Henry.”

“Hi, Mr. Atapattu.”

“Forgive me, but do you have the plate I gave you last week?”

“Oh. Yeah.” I went inside and found the plate, stacked amongst a pile of our own dishes, and handed it to him.

“Thank you,” I said. “The
barfi
was really good.”

Mr. Atapattu beamed. “Would you like to come in? I could make us some tea.” He must have seen the look on my face because he said, “Oh, of course. Stranger danger. Wait one moment, then.” He disappeared into his apartment. A minute later, he returned with a plastic container full of what looked like a thick yellow soup.

“It’s a vegetable curry.” He handed it to me. “I see your dad through my living-room window, coming home with a pizza every night.… ” He said it almost apologetically, which I thought was appropriate since he was admitting that he spied on us. “A growing boy needs his vegetables.” I swear he glanced at my wobblies when he said that.

“Thanks,” I said. “Oh, is that our phone?” It wasn’t, but it gave me an excuse to hurry back to our apartment and lock the door.

When Dad came home – with a bucket of KFC, not pizza, so there – we ate the vegetable curry as a side dish. The first few bites weren’t bad. Then my nose started running, and my tongue started to burn, and I had to stop. I ate seven pieces of chicken and a pile of fries instead.

“That chicken was supposed to last us two nights, Henry,” my dad said when he looked into the empty bucket.

I just belched.

I’m thinking I might have to start using the back entrance to avoid the Vultures. As my mom says, “Certain people, if you give them an inch, they’ll take a mile.”

Karen and Mr. Atapattu
are
those people. Their loneliness is like a bad egg fart – you can smell it a mile away.

Dad and I, we have a different kind of loneliness. It’s the kind you feel, even when you’re with someone else, because you know something, or someone, is missing.

Other lonely people can’t fill that emptiness.

Other lonely people only remind you how alone you already are.

Other lonely people only make it worse.

F
RIDAY
, F
EBRUARY
1

I managed to avoid Farley and the Reach For The Top practice on Tuesday by hiding out in a study carrel in the library. But today, I wasn’t so lucky. We had gym together before lunch, and when it was over, Farley followed me out of the change room.

“C’mon, the team really needs you,” Farley said for the fiftieth time as we got our lunches out of our lockers. “Please, please, pretty please.”

“Fine,” I said. “But I have to pee. I’ll meet you there.” This was a lie. Not the
pee
part – the other part.

But when I came out of the washroom, Farley was standing right outside the door, bouncing up and down on his heels.

“Let’s go.” He grabbed my hand, just as Troy and his friends walked past.

Honestly, Farley’s timing sucks.

Troy made loud kissing sounds. “Aw, what a cute couple!” he said. “Fatty and Skinny!” Then he grabbed Farley’s nipple through his shirt and twisted it, hard. “Purple nurple,” he said as he walked away.

I wanted to give Troy a Body Splash, followed by a Testicular Claw.

“Ow,”
Farley murmured, letting go of my hand to rub
his chest. “C’mon, we’re going to be late.” Then he tried to grab my hand again.

I shook my hand free. “No! I’m not going.”

Farley looked kind of hurt, but so what? “Fine,” he said. “Your loss. If you change your mind, it’s room 341.”

Then he walked away, tilting to the left.

I went to the cafeteria, but it was packed and I didn’t know anyone. So I headed to the library and sat at a study carrel far away from the librarian, who’d posted a big
NO FOOD OR DRINK
sign at the entrance. I pulled out my lunch – day-old pizza and two bags of chips that Dad buys in bulk from the Superstore.

The librarian must have a bloodhound’s sense of smell because she swooped down on me before I’d taken one bite. “Can’t you read?” she hissed.

So I packed up my stuff and went outside. It was drizzling, and the stoners had already taken shelter under the closest tree.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, a wave of homesickness washed over me. In Port Salish, I never, ever had to eat lunch alone. Me and Jodie would always eat together, and a whole bunch of other kids would eat with us, too. It was just the way it was at our elementary school. It hadn’t dawned on us yet to divvy up into stupid little cliques.

In Port Salish, my mom made our lunches every day,
before she left for work. A sandwich on whole wheat bread, even though we begged for white. Homemade cookies. A Baggie with mini-carrots or some other vegetable or fruit. A juice box. She made sure we ate pretty healthy. She made sure I didn’t get wobblies.

Sometimes we’d find little notes tucked into our lunch bags. Like if I had Math, she might write
Mmm, I love pi!
Or if Jesse had Science, she might write
Why do chemists like nitrates so much? Because they’re cheaper than day rates!
Once in a while, Dad would toss in a note too, like
Ask Mr. Tomlinson where he bought his hairpiece
, or,
Remember to count Mrs. Stanley’s nose hairs today
.

And then I started thinking about how often I’d complained about Mom’s lunches, and I felt furious with myself because what I wouldn’t give to have her making my lunches again. So I bolted away from stupid Trafalgar Secondary and walked the ten blocks to my stupid new apartment. I could feel my jeans cutting into my stupid wobblies, and I was hating myself so much that I didn’t see stupid Mr. Atapattu in the lobby until it was too late.

“Hi, Henry,” he said, smiling and showing off his crooked yellow teeth. He must’ve seen my expression because he added, “Is everything okay?”

I couldn’t even pretend to be polite. I just walked past him and took the stairs two at a time to our apartment
because I didn’t want to wait for the elevator. I ate my crap lunch while I watched crap daytime TV, and I had a third bag of chips, even though I and my wobblies knew I shouldn’t.

When I was done my lunch, I snuck into Dad’s bedroom and pulled the shoebox out from under his bed.

“Dickhead,” I whispered.

Then I went into my own room and crawled into bed.

I’m still in bed.

I’ll stay here till Dad comes home.

4:15 p.m.

The phone’s ringing. It’s probably Cecil. I’m supposed to be sitting in his crappy little office at the health center right now.

4:30 p.m.

The phone is ringing
again
. Third time in a row. Cecil may not be a good therapist, but I give him marks for persistence.

5:00 p.m.

When I was in the boys’ washroom today, I noticed someone had written
School is Hell
on one of the stall doors.

I pulled out my own pen, put an
X
through the word
School
, and wrote
Life
.

S
ATURDAY
, F
EBRUARY
2

3:00 a.m.

I dreamed about my brother again. Not about IT, but about the Other Thing. I could hear Jesse screaming. I tried to run toward him, but it was like I was running through pea soup. Then I heard the sound of duct tape being pulled off a roll.

Dad woke me up. He said I was yelling in my sleep.

4:00 a.m.

Now Dad and I are both in the living room, watching TV. I’m in my pj’s and Dad’s wearing the robe Mom made him a zillion Christmases ago. It’s made of navy blue velour, with a patch on the chest that says
World’s Greatest Dad
.

It’s a strange TV landscape at 4:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning. Among the infomercials, we’ve found an old black-and-white movie called
Bringing up Baby
. The baby is a tiger. Seriously. It stars some famous dead actors. Their lines are fast and funny, but I still feel a bit anxious that one of them might get mauled to death by the tiger at any moment. It doesn’t seem like that kind of movie, but sometimes you can be in for a rude surprise.

6:00 a.m.

Phew
. Nobody was mauled. I liked that movie.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if you could write the movie script for your own life? I guess it would have lots of boring bits. But at least you could write yourself a happy ending.

Later

After Dad and I got up for real at around eleven, we went shopping for supplies for our earthquake kit. We already have a lot of items, like sleeping bags and flashlights and a good first-aid kit, because of all the camping we’ve done. But today we were after food. We drove to an outdoor store called the Three Vets and stocked up on Meals-Ready-to-Eat (MRE’s as they’re called in the military). You can just cut open the bag and squeeze the food right into your mouth if you want. Dad and I tried a bag of corned beef hash when we got home, and it wasn’t half-bad.

“We’ll keep the kit in the hall closet,” Dad said as he put the MRE’s into a huge plastic bin along with our other supplies. “They say you should keep it near the front door so you can grab it on your way out.”

I didn’t have the heart to tell him that if we do have an earthquake, we’ll have bigger things to worry about than trying to grab our kit, like the third and fourth floors collapsing on top of us.

Dad has been obsessed with building this kit from the moment we moved here. Don’t get me wrong: We
should
have an earthquake kit, living in BC. But we never had a kit in Port Salish. My parents never got around to it.

I don’t need a degree in psychology to know what Cecil would say:
Your father couldn’t stop the first disaster, so now he’s trying to plan ahead for the next disaster so the outcome won’t be as devastating
.

See, Dad thinks the first disaster was his fault.

It was his gun.

Dad owned an old hunting rifle that had belonged to my grandpa Kaspar Larsen, who died before I was born. (That is what the
K
stands for in my name, but I don’t advertise it.) Once a year, during deer season, Dad would go hunting with a few of his buddies. He must have shot a few deer because I remember eating venison once in a while.

He was very careful with the gun. It was locked away in a special cabinet. He followed all the safety instructions. But Jesse must’ve figured out where he kept the key. And on June 1
st
, Jesse got the key and opened the cabinet and took out the rifle before the rest of us woke up. He also knew where Dad kept the bullets. He loaded the rifle – we found out later he’d visited a website to learn how – and placed it in his gym bag. He left while we were still sleeping. We found a note on the kitchen table:
Gone to school early. I’m sorry. Love you. Jesse
.

The
sorry
part was weird. The
love you
part was even weirder.

When he got to school, he carried the gym bag with him to his first class. How do I know this? I know because I can read, and the papers interviewed anyone and everyone who’d seen my brother that day. They all said he acted the same as always, which meant he didn’t talk to anyone. He kept to himself.

BOOK: The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen
5.25Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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