Authors: David Zimmerman
Copyright © 2012 by David Zimmerman
All rights reserved.
Soho Press, Inc.
New York, NY 10003
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Caring is creepy / David Zimmerman.
1. Mothers and daughters—Fiction. 2. Soldiers—Fiction.
3. Domestic fiction. I. Title.
In Memory of Laura Hruska
“It’s a cesspool, a spittoon, and the devil of it is, they set it in front of you in a fancy cup and make like it’s champagne, so of course you drink it. My daughter never had a chance in a place like that.”
—2002 radio interview about the Internet
with the mother of a teenaged kidnap victim.
“Allow me my phrases: there is a strange and deep thing coming, like a mouth, at the end of this.”
“The Spy of Loog Root”
he most dangerous thing I ever did was tell a grown man my real name. I typed it for him. Lynn Marie Sugrue. When it happened, it didn’t seem like anything at all. Hardly something worth worrying over. Me and my best friend Dani were down in her basement bedroom on a night hot and thick enough to push in against the window screens. We were playing our favorite game of the moment, a sort of online combination of crank phone call and blind man’s bluff, but it was really more of a scheme to try out being bad in a place we thought it wouldn’t count. We just never expected to be the ones wearing the blindfold.
So this is August of 2005 in Metter, Georgia, population half of nothing. A million miles from anywhere good. So this is me and Dani, just turned fifteen and a couple weeks away from our sophomore year at Metter High. So this is me fucking up my life like you wouldn’t believe.
he trouble started with a gift. The day after my friend Dani’s birthday, I found her moping down in her bedroom beside a pair of huge boxes. Dani’s dad owns that used car lot out where Lewis Street meets the county highway—Big Dunham’s it’s called, the one where in the commercials a girl in a bikini goes around popping balloons on windshields, saying, “We’re popping prices like you wouldn’t believe.” He’d been promising for years to buy her a car when she turned fifteen. Dani wouldn’t be able to drive without an adult sitting next to her for another year, but this hadn’t bothered her one whit. “I’ll get to have plenty of practice for the license test,” she’d say. A few weeks before her birthday, though, something happened to change Dani’s mother’s mind, something not even Dani would tell me about. Whatever it was she did, it made her mother decide poor little Dani wasn’t quite ready for a car of her own. Instead, she got a new computer.
I took a beer from my backpack and waved it in front of her face to get her attention. “Cheer up, there’s more naked men inside that plastic box over there on the floor than you could ever possibly look at.”
Dani closed her eyes and shook her hair so hard it twirled around her head like a skirt, but she snatched up the beer all the same.
“Well,” she said. “For scientific study.”
“Sure,” I said.
Dani had used the wholesome notion of scientific study as a
means of investigating all manner of nasty things over the years. We’d spent a good deal of the summer watching dirty movies filched from her dad’s footlocker in the garage, pausing at the stranger parts and studying them like scientists. Once, she even got her mom to buy Judy Blume’s
with the excuse that she needed to write a paper on the mores of suburban adolescents in the 1970s for her social studies class. I still shake my head in wonder over that bit of bullshit.
It took both of us to tug the computer free. The Styrofoam squeaked like a stepped-on mouse.
How could I have known then the kind of craziness that would come out of that box? Or that on that same exact day, maybe right around the same time, the boy who’d change everything about me, right down to my last clean pair of socks, was opening up his own box of trouble? Inside his box was the decision to leave his job, his home, his whole life. Inside his box was how he got caught sketching a stray dog on the back of a pink requisition form and was now pushing a mop as punishment. No more of this, he told himself. No way. I’m through. And I remember thinking how a new computer smelled like clean.
Dani tossed the instruction book and called her next-door neighbor, Wynn.
Wynn was a year above us. He was bony and stooped and had M&M-sized whiteheads on the back of his neck. He smelled like fresh-cut onion. As he sat at the keyboard, going through the startup instructions point by point, I made a shadow-puppet alligator crawl across his back, showing Dani how any one of the whiteheads could burst at the slightest touch, like a grenade with a loose pin.
“I’m going to leave you two lovebirds alone,” I said.
Dani pinched my arm, hard.
“And I’m going to stab you in the arm with a fork,” Dani said, making an irritable V with her eyebrows.
But I didn’t leave. I sat on the woven rag rug that covered most of Dani’s floor. Hers was the kind of bedroom you’d expect to see on some Nickelodeon teen sitcom. It was the size of my living room and decorated in a color scheme of teal and silver. Dani used the word teal, anyhow—really, it was plain blue. The four-poster bed was blue, with blue sheets, and her two beanbag chairs were silver. She called this the hanging-out area and had hung posters of her favorite bands. In most, the musicians all had the look of long-distance truckers loitering in the parking lot of a Waffle House at 2:00
. But in the newest one, there weren’t any people at all, just a big blue box with the silhouettes of tan and white weeds. Dani had become obsessed with a band called the Shins. Jingle-jangle guitars, sad whispering boys, and the occasional rim shot. Hum-along music that snuck up on you and stayed in your skull.
When Wynn told us we were online, Dani stared through the wall and tugged at a strand of hair as he set up an e-mail account for us and bookmarked some sites he said he thought might be of interest, so I could tell something was on her mind.
“You like celebrity gossip?” Wynn asked. “Gaming news? There’s this one site that’s really great that has all these funny alligator-eating-pet stories from Florida. You want to see that?”
“Really,” I said. “Florida?”
“Oh my God,” Dani snapped, “will you two shut up about Florida? Look—” She squeezed her eyes shut until the lids wrinkled. Whatever it was she wanted to say seemed to be trapped like a hairball in her throat. Finally, she coughed it up. “Why don’t you bring us to a site where we can … mess with people.”
“What do you mean?” Wynn asked.
“Pretend to be someone else,” she said. “Talk to them. Get inside their heads. Just
with people, you know?”
Wynn wiped his hands on the back of his green corduroy cutoffs. “Who do you want to be?”
She looked for a few moments over at the posters in the hanging-out area. “I could be a singer in some band from Scotland.”
“Come on, Dani,” I said. “Think big. Why not a fifty-year-old gay guy with gorgeous pecs from Dothan, Alabama?”
“Or a pretty girl from Metter, Georgia,” Wynn said. There were beads of sweat collecting in the wispy, little grandma mustache he looked to be trying to grow. It was gross and I really wanted him to wipe it off, but I didn’t say anything. Dani had flung enough mean at him for three people. Earlier she had asked him if he thought about me when he jerked off and I thought the boy might faint.
“Oh, please,” Dani said. She let loose with a lip-flapping sigh and made what I thought of as her fat face. She’d kill me if she ever heard me say this, but she had one of those Cabbage Patch Kid faces. Round and plump. And when she frowned, like she was doing now, she’d push her chin down and the fat would wrinkle up under there, making it look like she’d suddenly lost her neck. Dani wasn’t what you’d call
fat, but she wasn’t even close to skinny either. She had beautiful black hair that came down to her shoulders and curled up at the ends in a flip and a button nose that turned up at the end too. When I was mad at her, I called her “pig snout” in my head, but the truth was she had a pretty nose. I wouldn’t mind having it. Mine had a big bump on the bridge I hated. But her best feature, in my opinion, was her eyes, which were the color of a Rolling Rock bottle that’d been smashed on concrete. Green with silvery splinters.