Vibram soles drag scuff marks over smooth tiles as I shuffle from the sink to the boys room door. I pause, pressing my ear to wood smoothed by thousands of unwashed hands and listen for something other than the dull rush of blood inside my head. From the opposite side of the door, silence presses her ear to a plank of wood marked BOYS. She hears my heart, beating a bit too fast, before she hears my hushed voice. I turn from my side of the door to face Nico. “It’s cool.” He nods before drifting away to cast a vacant stare to the corner. Soon his attention is captured by a dirty roach, penned at the convergence of two walls and a scuffed floor shimmering with black and white tiles.
Loudly and repugnantly, even by my modest standards, Nico hocks a loogie, missing the roach by a good foot or so.
“Hey, dude, come on. That’s fuck’n nasty.” I nod to the door. “Let’s get outa here.”
He rubs a sleepy eye and, pulling up his shoulders, laughs to himself. He inspects jet black hair in a mirror cracked moments earlier. He turns to the door.
A breeze greets us as I swing the door open with a flourish. We exit the boys room. Unlike the thick musty air of the bathroom, the hallway air is cool, crisp, causing the hair on my arms to rise. Titling my face downward I whisper so only the hairs can hear, “Ten-hut!”
Then, looking away from the reaching hairs, I squint at lancing light. From the far end of the hallway sunlight darts through mesh reinforced glass to skip like a stone over linoleum. As one, Nico and I raise our hands as I am momentarily blinded by a sharp spear of white. Twisting my face from attacking light I watch as the hallway behind me falls away, collapsing into darkness leading to a miniature set of doors to our rear. From just beyond those little doors a clock ticks so loudly I wonder how the sound was able to squeeze through such a tiny entrance.
I whisper, yet hear no response before realizing I’ve spoken too softly for my words to make a noise. I try again. “All clear, dude.”
Nico nods. As if moving his arms through water he raises thick-fingered hands to his face. He begins to rub his cheeks. I stare at the undulating bags under his eyes.
A shiver runs through me as Nico mindlessly rubs his face.
“Dude, your eyes are totally fucked up.”
“Your face; it’s like all moving up and down when you do that shit with your hands.”
Suddenly self-conscious he stops and wipes his hands across a red Canadians hockey jersey. As he wipes already dry hands, a wisp of a smoke slinks from the boys room to drape a coiled arm over my shoulder.
Nico cracks his neck before flaring black nostrils, “Fuck’n reeks out here, dude.”
From our rear that clock ticks again, startling me.
Ignoring the friendly cloud I listen for additional ticks. My effort, however, is soon interrupted by the husky voice of our English teacher, Ms. Danes. Snippets of her lesson roll toward us from the sundrenched end of the hallway. I stand frozen as our English teacher’s words leap and dance from her classroom’s open door. The volume increases as the ratcheting sound of her voice soars on wings of passion for Beowulf; hero of a bygone era.
Boyish in shape and sporting a butch haircut and most likely swaddled in a polyester leisure suit, Ms. Danes trumpets the deeds of the mighty Beowulf to her 12th grade English class; to my 12th grade English class. Her voice swells across a world of linoleum and shuttered lockers as Beowulf’s timeless victories pour from the red painted lips of a grey haired woman born to the wrong millennium.
My head begins to vibrate. To and fro it bobs until I wonder how long I’ve been bobbing my head. Glorious praise for the mighty Geat crescendos, mixing with stabbing sunlight, the tick of a distant clock and smoke’s tightening grip to overwhelm me and Nico.
Nico covers his ears.
Satisfied with her blow against twentieth century ignorance Ms. Danes withdraws her trumpet of praise from thin lips. As she does I imagine those lips trembling with the thought of the dragon slayer’s unforgiving grip as it falls upon her boyish waist.
There, as Ms. Danes stands at a lectern in a mead hall adorned with students’ colorful drawings of Beowulf and Grendel, she closes her eyes – just for a moment mind you – and allows herself to dream. And as the wistful Ms. Danes dreams, students sit within a frozen pocket of time as they doodle on notebooks, flirt with batted eyelashes, scratch words like Aerosmith and symbols like into desks drained of color, stare out the window toward freedom, prick their noses at a curiously pungent smell leaching into their classroom or, in the case of me and Nico, go missing.
In the hallway Nico and I stand dumbstruck. The archer’s arrow finds its mark as she completes an additional passage from the timeless poem. Then the world grows quiet.
Once more I hear the tick of the clock to our rear.
As that invisible clock ticks I imagine the old bird removing her reading glasses with a flourish as she leans against her podium, smugly satisfied with her intimate knowledge of the dragon-slayer.
My shoulders tighten.
Then remembering words closer to home, I turn toward Nico. “Dude, you’re right. It fucking reeks out here. We oughta …”
Stopping midsentence I stare transfixed as Nico gyrates and twists in the middle of the hallway. Accelerating his movements he rubs first his chest, then the crotch of his pants. He mocks in a voice too loud for both the quiet hallway and my presently sensitive ears, “Oh Beowulf, you big fucking geek, take your thousand year old twig of a pecker and jam it in my ancient meat hall.”
Nico closes his eyes as his gyrations assume a life of their own.
I am slapped with a happy stick and, failing to contain loud laughter, I wave my hands. I try to use my words and, on the second attempt, succeed, “What the fuck, dude? Stop that shit before I pee my pants!”
With Nico twisting and turning and rubbing himself I double over, snorting. My torso comes to rest parallel to the floor as drips of laughter slip through my fingers. Head dangling like a ripe fruit I stare at linoleum squares as they pulse in time to that ticking clock.
‘Beautiful,’ I tell myself.
As Nico gyrates I continue to stare at the floor.
Ms. Danes’ voice jerks me back to the here and now as she once more praises Beowulf. I stand straight. Her voice, softer now, reflects a sense of curious wonder as she perhaps probes her audience. From this distance, however, her quieter words are dulled to the consistency of mumbles. Stretching, those words reach for me but fall short as they come to rest before steel-toed boots.
Finished with his twisting dance, Nico nods towards her classroom. “I can’t stand that twiggy piece of shit. I mean, she’s probably grinding her leisure suit against that stupid podium of hers, dry-humping a Beowulf book jammed down her boys underwear right now. And man, there is no way she doesn’t wear boys underwear. No fucking way, man.”
Nico steps toward a locker and begins to grind the front of his jeans against the metal surface. His head tilts toward the ceiling as he moans, again too loudly, “Oh Beowulf pour your mighty meat juices – or whatever that shit you drink is – into my rusted ale cup.”
I shiver at the thought, “Dude, stop it. Come on, man, I gotta face that freak. I can’t be cutting or gett’n caught out here fucking around watching you fuck a locker.”
Nico stops mid-grind. He pushes off the violated locker and stands there ape-like, arms hanging at his sides. He shifts his feet to stand straight. With his right hand he smooths his hair. Then, he smirks.
“Fuck her,” he suggests.
Swinging his hands up to his face he forms a trumpet of his own. He answers Ms. Danes’ song of glory with a song of his own.
“ME-OW!” he screams. “ME-OW!”
Down the hallway Ms. Danes’ private world is torn open as her classroom explodes in riotous laughter. Hands pound desks and chairs scrape linoleum. The most belligerent of her mead hall attendees return Nico’s call to arms with a cacophony of low level ‘Me-ows.’
The sound is not unlike that of 20 cats in heat.
Punctuating the newly released mayhem I scream at the top of my lungs, “Danes humps cats!” The words echo down the hallway and strike her hard and fast.
She reels and, with her sanctuary under siege, she heaves curdled words at the students before her, “Silence!”
We hear what must be the slamming of a book across the top of the podium.
“Silence!” she repeats.
Then, clicking heels across linoleum.
“Shit, dude! She’s coming!”
From our position in the center of the hallway we turn and kick open the boys room door, stumbling into the safety of our smoky lair.
Once inside, we push shoulders against the closed door, holding it tight. Quietly we listen for the approach of click-clacking heels.
We wait, holding our breath. I lean my head against Nico’s black hair. “If that fart sucker tries to push her way in I’ll whip open the door so she falls flat on her face. Then we run like hell. Got it?”
Nico nods at the stupidest of plans.
Still no heels.
And no push against the door.
Relieved, we slip down the back of the door to settle on those black and white tiles.
Sitting on the floor, I turn to Nico, “Dude, that was totally mental. I mean, like, you just blew up that freak’s classroom.”
His breathing checked, Nico rests his head against the closed door, “No, dude. You’re the one that lit that fucking fuse; last Saturday with that crazy cat story of yours. I mean, now everyone thinks she fucks cats. That was you, man – not me – you that just blew up that Beowulf-blower’s class.”
He narrows his eyes. “You knew just what was gonna happen when you told us that fucked up cat nonsense, didn’t you?”
I shrug and close my eyes and, as I do, Nico and I crank up the projectors of the past. Here on a bathroom floor, in the theater of our memories, we recall last Saturday night.
A soft darkness cradles me as last Saturday evening flickers to life.
Nico and I chip away at our first round of Millers as night falls softly over New Jersey. Lounging lazily in Nico’s second floor bedroom we listen to Zappa as we speak of girls and hockey. With nothing else to do we kick back and drink, taking our time to fill boredom’s thirsty container.
Darkness blooms and, after the passing of our first six pack, we hear a clomping on the front porch stairs. The clomping is followed by a series of knocks; timid, secretive. With raised eyebrows we rush downstairs to find my brother KJ, wheezing and gasping on Nico’s front porch.
He pushes his way in, “Dude, hide me.”
From the kitchen Nico’s father yells, “Who is it?”
Nico yells back, “Beasley’s bother, KJ.”
Nico’s father nods, returning his attention to a simmering pot resting on his mammoth stainless steel stove.
As Nico’s dad continues to fill the house with a chef-worthy aroma we spirit KJ upstairs to Nico’s room.
Rushing inside the bedroom my brother shuts the door. Nico and I stand frozen as KJ begins to pace.
“Dude, what the fuck? You alright, man?”
My brother nods. He motions for a Marlboro and Nico hurries to oblige.
With the help of the Marlboro Man KJ catches his breath. He stops pacing and leans against Nico’s desk. Respecting his silence Nico and I drop onto the bed, pushing backward to rest against a pair of frayed Yvan Cournoyer and Guy Lafleur posters.
His breathing now in check, KJ walks us through his flight across town; taking him through alleys behind Main Street stores, down the tracks, into the darkness of the Boulevard woods and finally, slipping between houses, leading to his safe arrival at Nico’s front door.
“What is it, dude? Someone chasing you or something? What’s going on?”
He shakes his head, “No, not yet at least, but it was close, man.” He aligns his breathing with the intake of smoke, “Like, I just hadta get the hell outa there. And fast.”
Prompting him to continue I hand my brother a Miller. He explains how, earlier in the day, he and his jock football friends had been playing touch football in the street by Principal Horatio Hunferth’s house.
“Guy’s a douche bag,” suggests Nico.
I nod in agreement as KJ returns to his story, “Yeah well, me, Sonic Boom, the Adlers, Timmy T. and Mac were all playing Nerf football in the street by Hunferth’s place, right. And while we were slugg’n it out a whole truck load of landscapers drove up and started working on Hunferth’s yard. They tore up all the grass, man. I mean every time I turned around one of those guys was ripp’n out a wad of grass. And then, when they was done, they started lay’n down tons and tons of that sod shit. You know, the new grass that comes in rolls.”
I jut my chin forward prompting him to continue.
“And, like, after we finished the game we were just sitt’n there on the curb listened to tunes on the boom box – not loud, respectful like – you know, just drinking sodas and watch’n these poor bastards lay’n out roll after roll of that shit, completely covering Hunferth’s front yard.”
“And the whole time we were there fucking Hunferth was treat’n those guys like shit, ordering ‘em around and tell’n them to stop talk’n and get back to work. And I was like, ‘you poor mother fuckers,’ so I walked over and let one of ‘em finish my Coke, ya know. Me and Sonic Boom; we just got up and walked over and gave a couple of ‘em our Cokes – and they were like, ‘Cool, man. Thanks.’ – and Hunferth comes running out his front door and starts yell’n at me and Sonic to stay away from his property. I mean, we didn’t do shit. We were just standing there! And he starts screaming. Like, the guy is such a fucking dick!”
I shrug, “So…? I mean, what’s the big deal?”
“Fucking guy was such a douche; just barking at first those poor fuckers and then at me and Sonic. So I turned around, got the boom box and stood up in front of his house and started blaring Unchained – I mean fuck’n blaring that shit, dude – and, he fuck’n comes barging out the door again scream’n bloody murder. ‘Turn that crap down!’ Then he says he’s gonna call the cops if we’re not outa here in like 10 seconds and then he calls me a miscreant’ whatever the fuck that is.”
I shrug at the word. “Yeah, he’s a fuck. So, what’d ya do?”
“I fuck’n flipped the dick smoker off. I mean, fuck him.”
“So? I don’t get it. He chase you or something? Did the cops come?”
“No, pussy just stared at me while I walked by.”
“And well, I really, really hate that blow fuck so after the other guys left, me and Sonic snuck into Wilson’s garage, you know the one with all the lawnmowers on Prospect Ave, and we fuck’n clipped two huge gas containers. You know, the big metal ones.”
My heart skips a beat, hoping this is going where I think it’s going, “And…”
“And, well, we waited in the woods ‘till it started to get dark and then we fuck’n snuck through just about every backyard from Wilson’s to Hunferth’s, lugg’n those stupid cans – dude, those fuck’n things are heavy, man – and when we got to Hunferth’s we scoped the place out and then, when it was cool, we poured the gas – like 10 gallons of that shit – all over his new front lawn.”
Nico jerked upright, “Fuck’n-A, man! Gasoline’s gonna kill that asshole’s new lawn, man. I mean, just kill it! And, that sod shit is expensive”
KJ sat quietly for a moment, enjoying the thought of telling us what he was about to tell us. He smiled and looked from me to Nico and back to me. “Fuck that shit, I wasn’t about to wait for his lawn to die next year. We fuck’n lit the place on fire!”
Nico spits out his Miller, “WHAT? You did what?”
I freeze. Only my mouth is able to move, “Dude, what did you just say?”
KJ draws from his Marlboro, cocking his head to the side to allow the smoke to drift past a squinted eye. “Yeah, fuck him, that asshole. We torched the place. We dumped out all that gas and Sonic Boom tossed a book of matches we got from the A&P cigarette machine. And it just went up. Like, BOOM, man!”
He looks out Nico’s bedroom window and, satisfied, repeats himself, “Boom.”
“Then like, we bolted. I think by the time he came out his front door all his stupid front hedges were burning; the flames were like this high (he holds his hand about 3 or 4 feet off above the floor) and, like by then we were way down the block. We chilled behind some ‘ol fart’s trash cans, ya know. But then, when we heard sirens, we took off; we ran as fast as we could and just got the hell outa there.”
KJ looks at me and shrugs. He smiles at a job well done.
Nico shakes his head, “Holy shit dude. That’s fucked up shit. I mean, really fucked up.”
I nod, proud of my brother. Then I stiffen, “But wait, where’s Sonic Boom? He didn’t get busted did he? I mean, if he did you’re screwed man; totally screwed.”
“Oh no, he’s cool. He’s got altar boy duty tomorrow; an early mass so he had to go home.”
Nico looks away. “Fucking Catholics.”
And unbeknownst to me or Nico or KJ, when the cops did arrive at the scene of the landscaping mishap, Hunferth told them of his earlier argument with ‘the Kinkade boy.’
Fortunately for KJ, Hunferth – who happened to share a long history with me – mistook KJ for me and placed the blame squarely on my shoulders. In turn, the cops visited our house and, tracking me down at Nico’s place, banged on the Esposito’s front door.
Hearing the knock, Nico looks out the front door. “Holy shit! It’s the fucking cops! You assholes brought the cops to my house! Uncool man! Uncool!”
“Shhhh,” I admonish. “Listen, we stay right where we are and say KJ was here with us all night, right? Quick, turn your TV on; the Rangers are playing. Yeah, that’s it. Cool. No, make it louder, so they can here it down there. Oh, shit, wait; hide the beers!”
As we shove six remaining six packs under Nico’s bed, Nico, KJ and I grow quiet as Mr. Esposito stomps his way to the front door.
The cops bang again, harder this time.
Mr. Esposito makes his way from his kitchen in the back of the house to the front door. He sounds pissed. “Hold your goddamned horses!”
From the top of the stairs we listen to Mr. Esposito’s side of the conversation.
“Well if it isn’t the good men from the local Police Department. And what may I do for you, officers?”
My heart pounds as our ears grow large.
“Huh? Beasley? He don’t live here. Sorry officer, you got the wrong house.”
“Oh, here? Now? Yeah he’s here. Been here all night. He and my kid are upstairs. Why? What’s this about if you don’t mind me asking?”
“Ah, no you can’t. I’m in the middle of cooking and I don’t have time for additional guests.”
“How should I know.” He’s quiet for a moment. “Sounds like they’re watching the boob tube; sounds like the Rangers’ game.”
Mr. Esposito’s words become clipped. “What? Gas? You mean like gasoline? No. They don’t got access to gasoline here. Look around. Does this look like a gas station?”
“How the hell should I know what he smells like. Look, I don’t know what you think he did but if it happened tonight I’m guessing it wasn’t him. He was here all night.” He sighs before concluding his side of the conversation, “Look officers, if you don’t mind, I gotta finish making my lunch for tomorrow. Some of us work on Sundays ya know. And I’m up before the sun. OK, then, good night.”
“Yes, of course. If I hear anything you’ll be the first to know. Now, good night.”
The door bangs shut.
“Pains. In. My Ass.”
Mr. Esposito turns and looks up the stairs to see his son, me and KJ gawking down at him. “I don’t know what the fuck you did Bease, but do not fucking make me a liar. You understand me, boy? And do NOT deviate from that story you just heard. Got it?”
KJ stammers, “Ah, OK.”
I nod, “Got it Mr. Esposito. And thank you.”
“And make sure whatever the hell you or that equally whacked out brother of yours did, you keep my Nico the hell out of it. Am I clear?”
“Yes, sir. Very.”
Mr. Esposito returns to the kitchen, finishes making a big pot of stew, shuts the lights and goes to bed, leaving us with the scent of simmering lamb. And while he sleeps away the day’s stress and wonders what the hell his son’s friend did to merit a visit from the men in blue Nico, KJ and I return to Nico’s room to enjoy the High Life.
After our third six pack, KJ grows bored, “Don’t you pussies know any girls?” He looks at me. “Call up some of your friends. I mean, come on, I lit the school principal’s yard on fire! The least you can do is get me some girls to drink with.”
Nico punches him in the arm, just below the shoulder.
He’s right, though. “Yeah, OK. That’s fair, dude. Nico, hand me the phone.”
I start dialing.
Jenny? Not home.
Diana? “Hello, yes, this is Beasley. Um, may I please speak with Diana? Thank you, sir.”
I cup the phone and whisper to Nico, “Best to be polite and not act like a fucking Neanderthal, huh?” He flips me off as Diana comes to the phone.
Coiling the cord around my finger I do my best to chat her up.
“Hang’n with Mellissa, Meg and Ginger. Listening to albums; Warren Zevon mostly.”
“Oh, cool. I’m at Nico’s. Me and my brother and Nico, tipp’n a few and, maybe, you know, smoke’n a little smoke in a bit. Wanna come over and hang with us? We got two cases.”
I add, “Like, it’s a lot a beer, so we need the help. I mean, we can’t drink this much beer by ourselves can we?”
Nico rolls his eyes.
Diana is silent for a moment so I fill the space between our phones, “Um and, like, if you want me to I could come over and get you; you know, to walk you guys over here, ‘cause it’s dark and stuff.”
Moving his hand in a vigorous manner Nico gives me the universal sign for jerking off.
Diana considers my offer, “Um, hold on.”
The phone muffles and scrapes before she returns with a qualifying message, “Is Sally with you guys, you know, with Nico?”
Nico’s girlfriend, Sally, is not with us as Nico and she argued earlier in the day. Turning to Nico I mouth the words, ‘where’s Sally?’
Slowly, he pulls his index finger across his throat.
“Hey, I was just check’n with Nico. Sally’s at home. She and Nico had a big fight and, if she forgives him, well, then I think she’s coming over later.”
Her voice drops a notch, “A fight? What’d they fight about?”
I lower my voice to match Diana’s, “It’s kinda private, ya know; kinda a big deal. So, like, I can tell you when you get here. Not over the phone, OK?”
Nico punches me squarely in the shoulder, “Asshole.”
Diana lets me know they’re leaving now.
Diana, Mellissa and Ginger make it over. Meg, the wisest of the four and a future Ivy Leaguer, thinks better of it and heads home.
Nico, KJ and I go downstairs to wait for them, sitting on the front porch stairs, tipping back Millers. We don’t want them to ring the bell and wake Mr. Esposito.
From up the road we watch three shadows approach.
As their silhouettes transform to soft flesh KJ and I crack open three Millers. We hand them out as the girls greet us. Nico warns our new drinking mates. “My dad’s asleep so keep it quiet, OK?”
The girls nod and explain Meg’s departure. Nico stands and turns toward the driveway. “Come on, follow me.”
Scooting across the small front yard, Diana grabs my arm, her wild black hair bristling against my cheek as she draws me near, “So what happened with Nico and Sally?”
She wears ass-hugging Jordache jeans and a button down red shirt exposing a graceful neck and two elegant collarbones under which rest a pair of swelling breasts. As she leans toward me I smell shampoo. I breathe in her scent and slow our pace so we fall a few feet behind the others. Ginger looks over her shoulder as my head tilts to the right, touching Diana’s thick hair, “I’ll tell you later.” Then, nodding to Nico, “He’s pretty upset, you know? I know he seems like an animal but, deep down, he’s really sensitive about this sorta stuff.”
With raised eyebrows I place my finger to my lips, “Shhhh.”
She nods and gives my arm a squeeze, before releasing me and skipping up to Mellissa and Ginger. I stay behind and admire her Jordache jeans. Arriving in the backyard the girls begin to whisper as Nico arranges a group of chairs in a circle around a low-slung grill. Fireflies dance along the perimeter of our teenage oasis as blackened trees reach for the sky. Crickets sing approval upon hearing of my brother’s suggestion to start a little fire in the grill. Far above the fireflies, stars wink through clouds backlit by a milky moon.
With the help of some wood scraps and lighter fluid our fire springs to life. Slender coils of grey smoke entertain us with a sultry dance as we polish off the first case of Millers. Mellissa keeps pace with the boys as Ginger pokes and probes Nico with questions about Sally’s whereabouts. He grows sullen and I deflect the conversation to school. We talk of our respective chances of having to attend summer school. We talk of teachers; teachers we like and teachers we don’t like.
Diana lets Nico know she thinks Ms. Danes has a crush on him.
I jump in, “Yeah, Nico, ya gonna drop Sally for Miss Danes? Ya know, you could be her real life Beowulf! She likes big hairy geeks.”
Ginger shakes her head, “It’s Geat, you goof! Geat!”
I shrug as the girls cackle. Annoyed, Nico curses the English teacher. “No way! I hate that bitch. I mean, she’s the one that told Hunferth I should be in special ed. And ‘cause of her I had ta take all those jerkoff tests! I hate her!”
Diana and her girlfriends push back.
“Awww, come on, Nico, she’s your type. She likes big strong men. And besides, I kinda think she could use a man like you.”
“Besides, she’s just trying to be a good teacher and teach us about history and stuff.”
And finally from the seat next to mine, Diana purrs, “She’s not so bad, is she Beasley?”
Looking up, I shrug. I hate Danes too. She regularly mocks me and Nico and tells us we’re stupid animals in front of the whole class. Truth be told, we are pretty stupid. But who likes to be reminded of such a fact?
I feign a dramatic sigh, “You know I always thought there was something fishy about that lady. Something like, I don’t know, weird.”
The conversation slows as I continue, “And I was thinking, ‘there’s something not right with that old bird.’ So ya know what I did last week? I followed her home.”
I look around the circle of chairs. “I went to her house.”
Dramatically I rub my neck. “And like, I wasn’t gonna tell anyone but when I went to her house I looked in her window. And, man, I gotta tell ya; I saw some pretty fucked up shit.”
The girls lunge forward.
“Shut the fuck up! Where? Where’s she live? What happened? Tell me! Tell me what happened!”
“Holy shit! Like, what’s her place like? Does she live alone? Is she married?”
“What? What was she doing when you looked in her window?”
I smirk, “Well I guess I could tell you. But, I mean what I saw is so very fucked up you can’t tell anyone, OK?”
I lower me eyes and whisper, “Promise?”
Diana places her hand on my thigh, just above my knee and, leaning into my ear, whispers, “Promise.” Then, leaning back to display the shape of her breasts she crosses her heart.
“And hope to die!”
Nico rolls his eyes and turns to KJ, “I think I’m gonna need some help for this one. You carry’n?”
KJ reaches into his front pocket, pulls out a baggie and, within a minute, a second kind of smoke dances above the fire.
Our slender white friend with the orange hair joins us as I quickly fade away.
I’m pulled from my stupor as Diana gets up from her lawn chair, leans over me and in doing so enables me to look right down her shirt at the chocolaty tops of her swaying breasts. She places her forehead against mine. Her breath is hot and moist and smells of Bazooka Bubble Gum.
She feigns a glower, “Tell us. Right now.”
I think about what to say.
And I do.
I tell them.
“OK, well, last week I had to ride my bike to school ‘cause I was punished for, well, it doesn’t matter for what, but I was grounded with no car for a week. Sucked, so on Wednesday, I think it was, I had detention with Hunferth until, like, four o’clock or something.”
Ginger interrupts me with a question.
“For knocking a row of gym lockers over on some dorks after gym class. Total bullshit.”
Her eyebrows scrunch together as I continue, “And when I got outa detention I was riding my bike around the parking lot trying to think of something to do, you know, before going home and gett’n yelled out for having detention, and, then, when I was leaving I saw Danes get in her car – yeah the old Corvette – and she drives like an old fart, man. Real slow, so I just followed her outa the parking lot. I mean, fuck it, why not, get some dirt on the old bird. And she was driving like 2 miles an hour so I just tailed her on my bike.”
Smoke fills my mouth as I think about what to say next.
“And the whole time she’s just stare’n ahead so she never sees me. And, like, there’s all this traffic so it was total cake to keep up with her. And when she gets to the light – the one by the Owl – she stops and takes a left into Paterson. I keep follow’n her and there’s no way I’m stopp’n in Paterson ‘cause if I do someone’s gonna steal my bike or stab me or something’ so I just keep pedaling away hope’n she doesn’t live too far and trying to remember which roads I’m gonna have to take back, ya know. And she ends up going up this huge hill and I’m like ‘what the fuck’ and then she goes down the other side of the hill and I’m like ‘what the fuck’ all over again and then whamo! She pulls into a driveway at the bottom of the hill, next to a baseball field. And so I cruise over to the field – yeah, some kids were practicing there – and it’s like a big park next to her yard; right next to her driveway so I hop off my bike and stand there behind some bushes and scope her out. And I watch her unlock her back door and go inside. And when she’s inside I can see her; right there plain as day, stand’n in the window. And every time she looks out to the field I duck down behind this big ‘ol bush.”
I bob my head and act like I’m ducking.
KJ rolls his eyes.
So does Nico.
The girls, though, sit rapt, fascinated at a peek into the world of the murky Ms. Danes. Picking up momentum I stand from my chair and get into character, “So she walks away from her window, right, and I can’t see her anymore so I bend down – like this (I bend down and scoot around our circle of chairs much like an ape might) – and creep into her yard with my bike. I drop the bike behind her car so she couldn’t see it, right, and I snuck up onto her porch stairs super slowly. I was like super slow ‘cause I didn’t wanna make any creaking noises, ya know?”
The girls nod.
Immune to my stories KJ simply releases twin columns of smoke from his nose.
“And I crept up and, like, peeked my head over the windowsill above her porch. And I just looked right in the window! It was her kitchen, man. I was look’n right into her kitchen! And she was right there, with her back to me standing at the counter. Shaking her ass like this (I shake my ass to one side a couple of times).”
“No!” squeals Diana.
As I return to my seat Diana grabs my arm, “You perve! You peeked into her window and stared at her ass? What else was she doing?”
“Wait. It gets better; a lot better.”
Taking hold of our slender white friend Diana inhales. She holds it. I watch as she squeezes her eyes shut, causing long black lashes to flutter.
Nico tosses an empty Miller at my feet, “Earth to blockhead, over. Let’s pick up the pace here, boner boy, OK?”
“Oh yeah, right, so fucking Danes is in the kitchen and I’m not kidd’n you when I say there was like a dozen – maybe more, maybe like 20 – cats circling ‘round her, just walking around her in a circle. Like she was a frigg’n cat messiah or something.”
Mellissa, leans forward, “Cats? Did you say cats? Like pussy cats?”
Waving off Nico’s pending comment, I nod, “Yeah, cats. And the whole time she has her back to me and she’s bopping her little boy’s ass and she can’t see me right – ‘cause she’s facing the other way – and then, like she goes to the cabinet and gets this huge, I mean huge, can of Chicken of the Sea tuna. And the cats just start freak’n out, man. I mean freaking out! Meowing and whining and running all over the place. And jumping all over her and try’n to climb up her legs.”
I mimic clawing cats as I continue, “And I’m like, ‘Whoa, freak out time, man!’ but she was cool as a cucumber; like it’s totally normal to be in a kitchen with 20 psycho cats clawing at you. Just a totally normal day at Danes’ place. And so then, like, she takes the tuna and sticks it in one of those automatic can opener machines – and I can hear it whir through the window and the cats start screaming! I mean, wailing, ‘ME-OW!!! ME-OW!!! ME-OW!!!’ and, then, before the machine finishes she starts to unbutton her shirt, at least that’s what it looks like from where I am.”
“You pervert!” howls Mellissa.
“What? No! How was I to know she was gonna undress in the kitchen with her fucked-up cats!”
“Yeah, that’s true,” nods Ginger. “How was he to know what was gonna happen. Go on, Bease. This is gett’n good.”
I look to Diana for encouragement and she nods, eager.
I continue, “So I’m watching, right, and she just takes off her shirt and lets if fall to the floor like she’s in a porno movie or somethin’ and she leans over the counter and grabs the open can from the machine. And I remember thinking it was weird that she let the top of the can stay in place; that she didn’t throw it away and then she, she…no. I can’t. I can’t say it… I mean, I gotta stop here before it’s too late…”
The girls scream in protest. Diana squeals and pulls at my arm, “You can’t stop there! You gotta tell us! Tell us! What’d she do next?”
Leaning over she shakes me by the shoulder, “Tell me!”
“Tell me, please!”
Nico leans forward and places his elbows on his knees, “You know, Diana, I bet if you give Beasley a little kiss – just a little peck ‘cause of his little pecker – he’d tell you the rest of the story. Wouldn’t you, Bease?”
Putting on my best bashful face I shrug. “It’s really not that little.”
Diana looks to Mellissa. Mellissa gives her the slightest of shrugs. Then she looks to Ginger. Ginger raises her eyebrows and nods ever so slightly. And with the approval of parliament Diana stands up, takes my chin in her hand and delicately kisses me on the lips.
In slow motion.
And as she does time shimmers and I see stars as she is lovely and soft and smells so sugary and I watch as she pulls away, her smooth brown skin falling to darkness around the edges and filling my view of the world.
And I am happy.
“Now you have to tell me,” she whispers.
My brother bursts out laughing, “Shit! I got stories too, ya know!”
As Diana returns to her chair she leans back and crosses her legs. Nico reaches over and pats my back, whispering, “You owe me, dude.”
And I do.
So I tell them.
“So where was I? Oh yeah, Miss Danes is standing there without her shirt, right.”
“And she takes the can with the top disconnected, but floating on all that nasty tuna juice, right, almost like so she’s ready to squeeze the juices out or something like that and she, huh? What?”
I’m interrupted; bombarded with questions from the girls.
“Huh? What? No she had a bra on. Um, white. With skinny straps.”
I hold my hands in front of my chest making two small cups. “About this big, I guess.”
“I could only see the sides, ya know, through her bra.”
I shrug, “A nice little size I’d say.”
The three girls wag their heads, each one contemplating the personal implications of ‘a nice little size.’
“And what was I say’n? Oh yeah, so she takes the tuna can and she’s holding it like it’s a communion wafer with the top of the can floating on the tuna oil or whatever’s in there and she starts backing away from the counter and, I mean, the cats are going mental. Totally mental. Screaming and jumping and clawing at her. I mean they were hanging off her pants. Just climbing her like she was a tree, pulling her pants down.”
Nico interrupts me. I respond quickly as I am on a roll. “No, dude. It was girl’s underwear; panties. Not boys. Huh? Cause I could just see the top had lace on it.”
I respond to a follow-up question from Ginger. “Black.” I look around the circle of chairs. “All set now? Should I keep going?”
The girls nod as I stand from my seat once more, holding an imaginary tuna can in front of my chest, thumbs up as if securing the loosened top in place.
Along with the girls, Nico and KJ now sit frozen.
The world grows still as the fire crackles and crickets stop their chirping in an effort to hear what happens next. In the distance a motorcycle roars.
“And then she takes the open can of tuna and holds it high over her head and she just lowers herself to the floor, right, and sits Indian style, ya know. And she’s sitting there cross-legged, right, and all of a sudden she tilts the can and lets all that fucking tuna juice pour out all over her head and shoulders and chest and back.”
“WHAT?” Diana screams. “Are you fucking kidding me?”
Nico shushes her, whispering, “My dad. He’s sleeping!”
Ginger jumps from her chair, “Then what? Tell us!”
“I mean, the cats – all of them – went totally crazy. Total freak show, man! I mean, it was a complete cat frenzy. They start jumping on her and licking her and climbing all over her. And then she falls backwards, ya know, onto her back. Real slow like; like she’s done this a hundred times. And the freakiest thing was her eyes; they were closed and she was just smiling, just lying there on the floor, letting the cats lick all that juice or oil or whatever it was right off her. And she was totally covered, I mean totally covered, in cats.
They licked her all over.
Licking her face.
I mean, they just tore her bra right off.”
Nico jumps in, “You saw her tits?”
“What? No! I mean I was so freaked out I didn’t realize what I was doing, ya know, and I just started backing away from the window and, like, I fell right off the fuck’n porch. I think I was in shock or something. I mean, I just fell backward onto the ground. Like, Wham! And I think I yelled or something. Cause I was freaking out! And so I got up and bolted ‘round her car, got my bike and just got the fuck outa Dodge.”
I shrug, “And that’s what I saw when I followed Miss Danes home.”
I look around the circle. Diana’s hands are over her breasts, cupping the swaying treasure. Ginger and Mellissa have covered their mouths, eyes bulged.
KJ stares at the fire, shaking his head back and forth.
Nico smirks. “Nice,” is all he has to say.
I break the silence. “And remember, you promised. You gotta promise me, not to tell anyone at school, OK?”
The girls nod as our night continues, periodically peppered with clarifying questions regarding Ms. Danes and her many cats.
“All different colors.”
“Males and females, I guess. Mostly males I think.”
Yeah. I’m pretty certain she was gonna have an organism or something like that.”
“I didn’t really see ‘em. Not too big I’d say. Kinda like the size of quarters.”
“First smiling, then it was open. I remember that. Her mouth was opening up. Just a little. Like this.” I open my mouth slightly as if moaning.
As we say our good byes, Diana, Ginger and even Mellissa kiss me on the cheek. Ginger waves as I remind them, “And remember. This is our secret. I can count on you, right?”
They tell everyone.
And now, as the theater of our memories fades away Nico and I return to find ourselves sitting on the boys room floor. Looking up I am surprised to see a freshman, terrified, staring at us. Holding his books over his chest he stammers, “Um, um, I was in there.” He nods to a toilet stall. “And I have to get back to algebra now. Really. Um, so please can you let me out?”
Nico stands and grabs the kid’s arm, tugging him toward the door, “Listen, junior. Get out there and don’t tell anyone you saw us, got it?”
The freshman nods as Nico continues, “And when you’re out in the hall look around and touch the top of your head if there’re any teachers or guidance counselor douche bags out there. And if that Beowulf-fucker Danes is out there bend down and tie your shoe.” Nico squeezes the boy’s arm. “I’ll be watching you, Poindexter. Got it?”
The freshman nods as Nico swings open the door and shoves him into the hallway.
As Nico holds the bathroom door open the freshman looks to and fro. He leans his face toward us and whispers, “All clear.”
I lean forward, “Thanks kid. When you’re old enough to twist up a fatty come to one of my toga parties and I’ll get you good and fucked up.”
Hugging his books tight he scoots away, elated at surviving a visit to the senior hall boys room.
I peek out the door as the freshman’s footsteps fade.
“Dude, come on. I can’t cut her class again. Let’s go.”
Nico’s not interested. “Fuck that, man. We’re already 10 minutes late. Let’s cut.”
“Dude, fucking Hunferth still thinks I torched his lawn. And, like, if I get sent to his office this week I’m totally screwed, man. Totally. I got no choice. I’m going in.”
I step from the safety of the boys room. “Come on.”
Nico rolls his eyes and follows me down the hall.
Squeaking our boots along the floor we announce our pending arrival. Then, feigning bashfulness, we slink into Danes’ classroom.
She stops her lecture and turns to face the door. Upon seeing us, she sighs, “The creature comes, bereft of joys, making his way toward the hall.”
Nico looks up, “Huh? Did you say cums?”
The class snickers as she rolls her eyes, “In addition to being ignorant, you’re late. And now you both have detention.”
I protest, “What? But Miss Danes, that’s not fair! I mean, I was in the bathroom.”
I look to the class as all eyes monitor my unraveling defense. I look to Ms. Danes and stage a whisper, “I had diarrhea! It was like a human flood in there and, like, I was stuck in the bathroom.” I lower my voice. “On the toilet!”
Nico bursts out laughing. And so does the class.
She seethes. “It’s Ms. Danes, Mr. Kinkade. Now sit down and shut your mouth.”
“But it’s true. You can’t punish me because I pooped. I mean, everyone poops, Miss Danes. Even you!”
She crosses her arms, glaring.
Bending over, Nico waves his hand, as if in surrender. He turns red and finds his seat. Soon neighbors are whispering in his ear, goofing on him and trying to trip him up. Turning an even brighter red, he laughs in silence.
Danes screams in Nico’s direction, “Silence! All of you!”
I take a step backward toward the door. Stepping forward Danes grabs me by the wrist and tugs at my arm. Jerking my hand away I stand staring, wondering why she tried to yank my arm from the socket.
Her eyes narrow. “Sit down right now, young man or so help me God you’re guaranteed an F.” She smirks, “Is that what you want? An F?”
The room grows quiet. Ms. Dane takes another step toward me, her words dripping with distain, “Go ahead, Kinkade. Try me.”
I twist my boot on the floor, generating a modest squeak. “Well, if I get an F I guess I’ll get to spend some more time with you, Miss Danes; in summer school.” Tilting my head toward the floor I bat my eyelashes, “Is that what you want?”
She stares. “It’s Ms. Danes. And I’ll be damned if I spend one minute more than I have to with the likes of you.” Looking to Nico, she continues, “Or that animal friend of yours.”
She blinks, whispering in my direction, “Each hateful of the other…”
Not sure what to make of her final comment, I scratch myself and sit down. She backs away before turning toward her lectern. As she grabs the sides of the podium she closes her eyes. Calming herself, she draws a long breath and reenters a world in which the likes of Beowulf vanquish two-legged demons as well as dragons.
And as she floats to her private place Nico places a smoke filled head on the desk, hiding his face behind folded arms.
He strikes with a mighty wail, “ME-OW. ME-OW!”
And at that very moment, in a place just a short bicycle ride away, the ears of 20 or so cats prick up as they prowl a quiet kitchen, waiting patiently for their master’s return.
The classroom explodes.
Gripping the edges of her podium, Ms. Danes’ knuckles bloom white. She throws her face to the ceiling as the room swells with a sickening scream, her sanctuary torn asunder.