The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen (6 page)

BOOK: The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen
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“It looked like El Toro had it in the bag,” I told her. “Jack Knife was lying on the mat. El Toro turned away and pumped his fists in the air. So he didn’t see Jack Knife stand up. Next thing you know, Jack Knife spins him around and gives him a Bionic Elbow. El Toro dropped like a rag doll.”

“No! Oh, I hate Jack Knife!” she said.

It was a
brilliant
conversation, and no, I’m not being sarcastic. Mom is almost as big a GWF fan as I am, and it’s the one thing we can talk about that doesn’t end in tears.

Then I made the mistake of telling her about the tote bag, and it ended in tears. “I wish you were here,” she said.

“Yeah, well,” I replied, my voice frosty again. “I wish you were
here
.”

From September to December, we’d lived with Pop-Pop and Grams in Picton, Ontario. Growing up, I used to love visiting their place. But not this time. This time, it sucked.

Mom spent a lot of time in bed. She only left the house to see a psychiatrist in Kingston three times a week. Dad picked up a few odd construction jobs through Pop-Pop and Grams’s friends. And I went to the local school. But Pop-Pop and Grams had told their closest friends what had happened, and, of course, word spread. So after two weeks of putting up with the stares and whispers of the kids in
my class, I announced that I wasn’t going back. What’s weird is that Mom and Dad didn’t even argue with me.

For the next couple of months, I did my work through correspondence school, using Pop-Pop and Grams’s ancient PC. I barely left the house. My wobblies grew, and so did my furies.

Just before Christmas, we were sitting at the table eating Grams’s meatloaf when Dad said, “I think we should move to Vancouver.”

My mom dropped her knife and fork. “What? When?”

“There’s a lot of construction work there,” Dad said. “And I have my license in BC.” He’d co-owned his own construction company in Port Salish, but two months after IT happened, he sold his half to his partner. “Plus Henry can start at a new school there. Fresh start.”

Mom was quiet.

“What do you think, Henry?” Dad asked, trying to fill the silence.

I liked the idea. A fresh start in a new city, where no one knew our story – it sounded brilliant. Even Pop-Pop and Grams were onboard. They knew we couldn’t live with them forever. We decided we’d move after Christmas. Dad lined up the apartment on Craigslist.

But a couple of days before we were supposed to leave, I heard my parents shouting upstairs. Then my mom came
down. Her eyes were red. “Will you go for a walk with me, Henry?”

So even though it was sleeting outside and bitterly cold, I walked with her through the streets of Picton, past the other old redbrick homes and the enormous snowbanks.

“You know how much I love you,” she said, her voice shaking.

I nodded, but I felt sick.

“I’m going to stay with Pop-Pop and Grams for a while longer. Just until I …”

The possibilities for the rest of that sentence were endless.
Just until I … lose ten pounds on Weight Watchers? Just until I … grow a beard? Just until I … can start loving you and your dad again?

Dad tells me all the time that Mom still loves me, but that is very, very hard to believe. Sometimes I feel just as angry at her as I do at Jesse, like if they were standing in front of me right now, I’d give them both a Bionic Elbow.

According to my parents, I used to have terrible temper tantrums when I was little. I can remember lying in the middle of the grocery store aisle, screaming and pounding my fists into the floor because Mom wouldn’t buy Cocoa Puffs. I remember that the actual anger didn’t last
very long; it would switch to humiliation really fast, like somehow I knew, even at three, that I looked like a total dork. That would make me even angrier, only now I’d be angry with myself. My mom always seemed to get it, because she’d scoop me up and hold me really tight against her so I couldn’t flail, and eventually I’d get exhausted and go limp in her arms.

But my furies went away, like they do for most kids. Then Jesse did what he did. And every so often, they come back.

The first time it happened was right after Mr. Marlin slammed the door in my face, because that’s when I really knew it was over for us in Port Salish. People hated me and my family as much as they hated Jesse. So I went home and I tore Jesse’s room apart. Then I took his manga collection and ripped every page out of every book.

The second time was the day after Mom said she wasn’t going to move to Vancouver with us, and I started speaking in Robot-Voice. I said some really nasty things. “Mother-bot. You. Are. Totally Pathetic. I Hate. Your Freaking Guts.” “Go to Hell. Pop-Pop-bot. Do Not. Get Involved.”

That’s right. Robot-Henry even swore at his own grandpa.

The day Dad and I caught our plane, Mom didn’t even come to the airport. She went to her appointment with her psychiatrist instead. Dr. Dumas called us the next day in Vancouver to tell us that Mom was exhibiting signs of a nervous breakdown, so he’d admitted her to the psych ward, where she’s been ever since.

I refuse to blame myself.

Jesse made this mess, not me.

After we got off the phone with Mom, Dad and I put on the TV. A few minutes later, someone knocked on our door. I looked through the peephole. It was Mr. Atapattu. I think he was holding a plate of food, but I couldn’t be sure.

I didn’t answer. I just tiptoed back to the couch and tore open a fresh bag of Doritos. Mr. Atapattu must’ve known we were home though, ’cause the TV was playing quite loud and my dad even called out, “Who is it, Henry?”

But you know what? Tough.

W
EDNESDAY
, F
EBRUARY
6

So I caved. I went to a Reach For The Top practice at lunch today. Farley was so excited, he did a little dance. Totally embarrassing.

When we walked into the room, Alberta was already in her seat. Today she was wearing a purple bowling shirt. The name
Loreen
was stitched above a pocket. She matched it with a pair of pink stretch pants. Even though I barely glanced at her, Farley whispered in my ear, “You like her.”

“Do not.”

“Do.”

“Do not.”

“Do.”

“Do not.”

“Do.” Et cetera, et cetera.

I sat beside Ambrose, who was wearing his ugly pom-pom hat.

“What’s your name again?” he asked.

“Henry.”

“Henry what?”

I hesitated. “Henry Larsen.”


O
or
E
?”

My neck muscles tensed. All it would take is a Google search – “Larsen Port Salish” – and they’d find out everything.


O
,” I lied.

“Shore, early, nearly, sly, real, hole, heal, shone, share, shale, shy, rye, hen, hay, hare, has.”

I looked at him blankly.

“Duh. They’re anagrams,” he said, like it was obvious. “Using some of the letters in your name.”

“Oh.”

“Ambrose is a Scrabble champion,” Parvana piped up, stroking his arm.

“Oh.”

“I’m ranked twelfth in BC.”

“Oh.”

Mr. Jankovich entered. “Henry, nice to have you back. Let’s get started.”

These are the questions I remember:

1)
What volcano is on the island of Sicily?
(Mount Etna – we all knew that one, but Shen buzzed in first.)

2)
What is the capital of Sicily?
(Palermo. Koula.)

3)
Sicily is surrounded by what body of water?
(The Mediterranean Sea. Answered by yours truly.)

4)
This actor has played Jack Sparrow, Ichabod Crane, and Gilbert Grape
. (Johnny Depp. You can guess who answered that one.)

There was also a series of “Who Am I?” questions. We kept getting a new clue until we could figure it out.

Clue A: I grew up in Monroeville, Alabama
.

Clue B: I was a tomboy
.

Clue C: I was good friends with another literary icon, Truman Capote
.

Clue D: I won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1961
.

Jerome buzzed in after the fourth clue and gave the right answer: Harper Lee, the author of
To Kill a Mockingbird
. Before I knew it, the bell rang and it was time to leave.

It wasn’t the absolute worst way to pass an hour.

After school, Farley followed me out the front doors and fell into step beside me. “I thought you lived up the hill,” I said.

“I do.”

“Then why are you walking this way?”

“I’m hoping you’ll invite me over.”

“I can’t,” I said. We hadn’t invited
anyone
over since we’d moved in.

“Why not?”

There were a million white lies I could have told, like, “I have way too much homework,” or, “My dad’s home sick.”

Instead I said, “The place is a mess.”

Lame.

Farley just grinned. “Not a problem. I love messes!”

So Farley walked with me to our apartment. We started out on tree-lined residential streets. Then, after a few blocks, we turned left onto Broadway. We walked past four produce stores, five coffee shops, three bookstores, and a gazillion sushi restaurants. We passed the billiard hall, where men in sweater-vests stood outside, speaking in Greek and drinking coffee from tiny cups. Farley was trying to tell me the entire story line from Season 1 of “Battlestar Galactica,” but I tuned him out.

Then I saw the Crazy Lady up ahead. She was outside the Vietnamese restaurant, wearing a purple dress, red kneesocks, and hot pink Crocs. She sang tunelessly while strumming on a plastic dollar-store guitar.

The Crazy Lady is there most days when I walk home from school, and the sight of her always makes me queasy.

“C’mon,” I said to Farley, “let’s cross here.” I didn’t tell him we’d have to cross back a block later. I do this all the time to avoid the Crazy Lady.

When we got to our dingy gray building, my stomach was in knots. I took Farley up the back stairs so we wouldn’t run into Mr. Atapattu. I unlocked the door, and we stepped inside.

Suddenly I felt ashamed. The beige carpeting is covered in burn marks. The white walls haven’t been white for years. Everything looks dingy and worn. Plus, we
brought all the furniture from our three bedroom house and tried to fit it into a one bedroom + den, so it’s jammed with stuff that’s too big for the rooms. You have to squeeze your way past the big brown leather couch and the big brown leather La-Z-Boy and the big oak coffee table to get to the galley kitchen.

But Farley just said, “Wow, what a cool apartment!” Then he made a beeline for the shelf that held my PS3 games. He grabbed Call of Duty 4 off the shelf. “Wanna play?”

“Sure.”

As I loaded up the game, he said, “What happened in here?” He pointed to a particularly large burn mark on the carpet, which we’d tried to cover with the coffee table.

“Rumor has it, the previous tenant had a meth lab,” I told him. “He got caught because he started a fire one day.”

“Wow. You’re living in a former drug den!” He sounded impressed.

Confession: Playing Call of Duty 4 with Farley was fun. I hadn’t played with a real live human being in ages. After a while, Farley said, “I need to use your facilities.” It took me a moment to realize he meant the bathroom. I felt ashamed again because my dad and I haven’t cleaned in there once since we moved in. I might keep my own
room neat and tidy, but cleaning toilets is not my thing. Also, the toilet seat has a crack in it – if you need to sit down, you have to be very careful or risk getting your bum pinched.

Sure enough, a few minutes later I heard a yelp. But when I went down the hall to investigate, Farley wasn’t in the bathroom anymore.

He was in my bedroom.

My heart started pounding.
Where else had he been? What else had he seen?

He was staring at my Great Dane poster. “You’re a GWF fan, too!” he exclaimed. “This is incredible. We have so much in common, we could practically be related. Separated at birth or what!” I was speechless. There were so many ways that this made no sense. “Except
my
favorite is Vlad the Impaler,” he continued.

“Vlad the Impaler?” I blurted. “Are you nuts? That guy is pure evil.”

“Exactly! Every time he steps into the ring, you know it’s gonna get interesting. Vlad means drama. Did you see last week, when he clotheslined Jett Turbo?”

“Duh, of course I saw it!”

We argued for a few more minutes about the Great Dane versus Vlad the Impaler, then Farley saw the time on my alarm clock. “Yikes, I’ve got to go. Maria will start worrying.”

“Is Maria your mom?” I asked as we headed back to the living room.

“No, she’s my nanny.”

I laughed because I thought he was joking.

“My parents live in Hong Kong. Maria lives here, with me. She’s from the Philippines.”

“You’re serious? You don’t live with your parents?”

He nodded. “They bought the house here two years ago ’cause they wanted me to go to school in Canada. And also because having property here is a good investment. Maria was my nanny in Hong Kong, too, so she moved here with me.” He grabbed his backpack and slung it over his shoulder. “That’s something else we have in common.”

BOOK: The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen
6.13Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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