Authors: David Zimmerman
H.K. grabbed both my arms and put his face right next to mine. “Jesus fucking Christ, what took you so long?” His sideburns were dark with sweat. He’d chewed a little red drink straw practically to shreds.
Dani made a few sounds, none of them words.
“Never mind.” H.K. pulled us by the arms through the crowd.
At the door, he backhanded Dani on top of the head, but not all that hard, and said, “I got a hundred bucks on Johnnie Gilbert Cook and ’cause of you I’m fixing to miss the whole fucking thing.”
As he hustled me and Dani across the parking lot, he told us several times that whatever the hell it was we’d seen back there, we hadn’t seen it. The tires smoked and squealed when he slung the car around on the county highway and pointed us back toward town. Nobody said a word. Dani held a hand against her mouth. With the other she made four fingernail marks on my wrist. The mascara smeared around her eyes made it look like she’d been the one back there boxing. God, I thought, I hope Hayes didn’t see me. Before we could tell H.K. where to drop us, he pulled the car into the gravel track leading out to the Keegans’ farm. The same place he found us. He flicked his cigarette at my leg and gunned the engine, spraying us with orange dust and bits of pea gravel.
“Damn, damn, damn.” Dani walked in a circle around me, wiping her face with the back of her wrist and smearing the mascara even worse. “Well, I haven’t had any fucking fun yet. I ain’t going to let that asshole ruin my night. We might as well head to the barn.”
She stomped over the warped plank that crossed Turkey Creek. Before I could shout out a reason for us not to, she disappeared under the trees. I followed.
ayne Keegan’s barn wasn’t really a barn at all. It was a tottering sharecropper’s shack in the middle of an unused field full of blackberry brambles. A Coleman lantern hissed in an open window. The shadows of two heads fluttered on the weeds beneath it like a couple of bulb-drunk moths. But from the sound of the voices, there had to be at least two or three more people inside. Dani and me paused at the edge of the long rectangle of light from the window. Blaring hip-hop made the clapboards buzz and shake. In the space between songs, there was a gunshot sound. The two of us jumped. Wayne Keegan said something stupid. A girl cackled. A new song came on. The Shins.
“ ‘Caring Is Creepy,’ ” Dani whispered, smiling for the first time since we’d been hijacked by H.K. and squeezing my arm. “That’s an omen.”
“Yeah,” I said, thinking, the song fit us to a T this summer. We weren’t building anything, like the song said, we were just chucking around bricks. It worried me some that Dani had made this our anthem. I’m not sure I understood all the lyrics, but I didn’t like to think we were dying over and over like the person the song’s addressed to, but maybe we were. I wondered if tonight was another one of those times. Dani had taken the title for a motto. She wouldn’t care until it killed her.
“Jesus,” Wayne shouted, “will someone please shitcan the fag soundtrack!”
We exchanged grimaces. Before I could suggest we turn around and go home, Eminem started yelling something angry. Inside, the boys let out several loud whoops of approval. Dani took four steps forward and then stopped and glanced back at me. She looked like she’d just learned the truth about the Easter Bunny. I couldn’t help but follow her.
Russian Roulette Truth
ani took off her shoes, shouted, “Bitch!” and went inside. I craved a beer, even a lukewarm one, so I muttered, “Shit,” and walked in behind her. Hazel Kinney, Dani’s worst enemy since the sixth grade, sat on the floor swigging from a brown bottle of beer. Wayne and Billy Varnel and a kid named Jared sat across from her. Billy waved a very real-looking pistol at us and laughed when we ducked. After a couple of lame jokes about barnyard animals, Wayne, the boss of the barn, explained they were playing Russian Roulette Truth and the realistic pistol was only a starter pistol full of blanks.
The rules went something like this: On your turn, you put in a blank, spun the cylinder, held the gun next to your head, and pulled the trigger. If it didn’t go off, you took a drink. If it did, you had three choices: they could ask you any question they wanted and you had to tell the truth, you could take a dare, or you could go up in the attic with the last person who got shot.
We found out Jared jacked off three times a day minimum and Wayne had never had sex with a pig. Some of us doubted that last one, and when we said so, Wayne turned tomato head and stuttered something about us not knowing what all he did with his cock in private. Billy admitted to once letting a dog lick cheese spread off his dick. After that, Wayne took to calling him cheese dick. I drank three beers and felt better.
On my third turn, the gun went off and I chose truth. I told them I got my period in the seventh grade. This was a lie. I didn’t
get it until ninth grade. Dani, who knew the truth, winked at me. Barely twenty seconds passed before the gun went off again. Billy, who had the hygiene habits of a goat, chose to take me up to the attic. Of course. My ears still rang so loud I couldn’t hear a word he said. Billy trapped me in a corner and got a mouthful of hair before I slid out from under his sweat-greasy arms and escaped.
On the seventh or eighth time round, the gun went off against Hazel’s head.
“You ever been lezzy with another girl?” Billy asked her. There was a scratch on his face from where he’d fallen after I’d pushed him in the attic, and I felt like adding a little length to it.
“Well,” Hazel said, drawing out the
. “I’ve never actually done anything myself, but I’ve noticed Dani is always staring at me when we’re changing for P.E.”
“That’s just ’cause Hazel’s got a giant ass,” I stage-whispered to Wayne. “Looks like someone tied a piglet around her waist.”
Hazel either didn’t hear or pretended not to. Dani kept her mouth clamped shut and tried to strangle her with her eyes. Wayne and Jared laughed. Then Billy laughed, but by that time he was so drunk I’m not sure he even knew what he was laughing about.
“That reminds me of what you told me about your brother,” Dani said.
“What?” Hazel said. She stood up.
The room went quiet.
“You know, how you said you like to watch him through the crack in the bathroom door when he’s taking a shower.”
The boys laughed. I wondered if this was something Hazel had actually told her when they were friends. It seemed possible. Hazel was trashy.
“Fucking cunt,” Hazel said. She ran across the room and grabbed Dani by the hair. I got up to help Dani, but Jared grabbed me by the elbows and held me back.
“You got to let them fight it out,” Jared said.
“No, I don’t. Let loose of me.”
Dani’s crate tipped over backwards and they rolled around on the ground. They weren’t really hitting each other, just scratching and biting. Hazel got a slap in and then Dani tore a fake fingernail off clawing at Hazel’s cheek. She left a long red gash. After a couple of minutes, they stopped cussing at each other. It was all grunting and screaming. Both of them cried and dripped mascara. They kept at it for a good ten minutes at least. Finally, Hazel clocked poor Dani in the eye with her beer bottle. It made a hollow clunk. She stopped fighting. Her face went greenish gray. The lantern continued to swing. None of us said a word for a very long moment, but our shadows shrank and swayed and grew as the lantern moved. Dani pulled her knees up against her chest and sobbed.
“Alright, now. Leave off,” Wayne said. Hazel had reared her foot back and looked ready to kick Dani in the head, but Wayne managed to pull together sense enough to stand up and grab her first. Jared let me loose.
“Get the fuck out of here, you bitch, and take that dyke with you!” Hazel screamed at me. Wayne still held her, so I slapped her as hard as I could. It made me happy to see I left a handprint. She kicked her legs up in the air trying to get away, but Wayne held her and smiled at me.
“I like to see a little spunk in a girl,” he said.
“Man,” Billy told his left foot. “Girls fighting.”
I helped Dani stand up and we left without saying another word.
Jared stood in the doorway and called after us, “Don’t be like that. We didn’t even get to mess around yet.”
The walk home was silent but for the sound of Dani’s head slowly swelling larger and larger. We swiped a venison steak from the basement freezer and Dani fell asleep with it melting on her face.
didn’t sleep that night. When the alarm on my cell phone went off, I crept into her closet, flipped on the light and huddled under a row of dresses bagged in dry-cleaner’s plastic. Logan picked up before the first ring finished. All it took was the sweet sound of his trying-hard-to-be-a-tough-guy hello for my stomach to settle some and my no-sleep headache to ease off a notch or two. Still, I could hear right away the boy was in some kind of mood.
We talked a lot about the Army and how much he hated it now. When Logan first signed up, he said he was all gung-ho. But then he got over there and it stopped making the same kind of sense. Or any kind of sense at all. They stuck him on something called a forward operating base in the middle of nowhere, way out in the desert. What were they protecting? Nothing. A tiny three-house town. One of the things he noticed straightaway was the kids. They didn’t appear all that different from the ones at home. Nor did their games and basic boyish hijinks. In fact, one kid in the village near his base bore a strong and eerie resemblance to his cousin Holt. This troubled him. Logan had no stomach for shooting people that looked like his own kin. The TV had prepared him for towelheads in white, billowing dresses. Men wore pants here like everywhere else. For the most part, he found the war boring. Another surprise. Soldiering mainly consisted of cleaning things and using swear words and long strings of letters to describe normal objects.
But this all changed after the attack that killed two of his friends—Krantz and Petersen. Nothing was the same after those two died. Nothing. They were driving in a convoy through a small town near their base. Narrow, twisted streets with a thousand places for the enemy to hide. An IED bomb blew up under his friends’ vehicle and then someone tossed a bottle full of gasoline from a balcony above. He’d watched these boys burn to death from a Humvee ten feet behind them. Only one of them managed to get out. He ran across the street with his head on fire. Krantz. He was dead before he fell to the ground. And even though they’d killed the man who threw the gas bomb, the world stopped meaning what it did before. The sun didn’t even look the same to him. He got hit by shrapnel in that attack. Nothing all that bad, he said, a little cut on his shoulder. Ten stitches. He wished his body had been torn up even worse, so it’d match outside with how he felt inside. Logan told me he couldn’t concentrate on anything for the rest of his time over there. It was all he could do every morning just to pull himself out of his cot and zombie through the day. Every day, the same old shit—sand and sun and shouted orders. Logan paused for a moment after telling me all this, and then said, “Blood smells different out in the sun like that.”
I arranged Dani’s shoes according to color.
“Sometimes,” he said after this three-year pause, “the sun will shine off a windshield someplace, like the parking lot at the PX on base, and my mind will do this fucked-up thing where I see some plain Toyota as the Humvee Petersen and Krantz died in. And now, Lynn … I don’t know. I can’t even take elevators anymore. No thanks, I’ll take the stairs from now on. Does that make sense to you? Why wouldn’t I want to get stuck inside an elevator?” He let out a ragged, breathy
sound. “You must think I’m crazy.”
“Nah, man,” I said. My heart twisted and turned over on itself like a wrung-out washrag. “I don’t think nothing like that, Logan.
You a had a shit-poor time over there is what I think.”
“Fucking right,” he said softly and did a pretend kind of laugh. “Once I get going, it’s just like
.” He made a puking noise of sorts.