Authors: David Zimmerman
“But the reason I brought it over was so I could show you my new section.” She flipped to the back of the book where the construction paper was gray. “I started it on Tuesday when I was watching
It’s the dream man section. I’m trying to make pictures of all the variations of my types. When I get enough, I’m going to start a new collection book just for them.”
The pictures in this new section reminded me of the paper dolls I used to play with as a little kid. The kind where you color the clothes with crayons and then cut them out. The clothes have tabs on the sides, so your paper doll can change outfits. Dani had taken rock stars and actors and cut them into pieces and then put them back together. She didn’t mess much with their faces, but she’d given them other people’s hairstyles and arms and legs, and in one case, a different neck. They creeped me out a little bit.
“They look weird,” I said, risking Dani’s bitchiness.
“I’m still getting the hang of it,” she said, with an expression a couple of face muscles away from a pout. “If you want me to, I’ll see if I can figure out what your type would be.” She squinted at me carefully. “Maybe a blond. Your hair’s really almost brown. Like something brown that’s been left out in the sun too long.”
“Thanks,” I said.
“I didn’t mean it in a bad way,” she said.
woke up in my living room at twilight the following day. I’d left a puddle of drool shaped like a dog’s head on the armrest of the couch. Dani and me had played The Game the night before until the little window above her bed went from black to pink to orange. I only dozed for an hour or two at the most before Dani’s mom woke us up so she could take Dani to her dental appointment. The last thing I remembered after coming home was turning on the tube. It was still on. A woman with hair the color of a tongue explained that the juice of several carrots and a handful of what looked like yard clippings would remove any and all blockage from your large intestine, up to and including the mouth of the anus. She actually said that. The mouth of the anus.
I clicked off the TV and heard three distinct thuds over in the other condo in the duplex. Or at least it sounded like next door, but maybe—nah, I thought, our house was empty when I got here. Nobody could sneak by while I was sleeping, could they? I wondered what Mr. Cannon, our hundred-year-old bachelor neighbor, was up to over there.
Then something fell over and crashed. This time I knew for certain the sound wasn’t coming from Mr. Cannon’s side. Did whoever it was that made that sound hear me click the TV off? Shit. I looked around for something heavy. An old wine bottle with a candle stuck in it sat beside me on the end table. I hefted it once and tiptoed down the side hall, flipping open my cell phone as I
went and dialing 911, so all I’d have to do was press send. The glow from its screen made the darkened hallway blue. I paused next to the squeaky spot in the flooring beside the water-heater closet when I heard another bang. This one sounded like somebody slapping the bottom of an empty metal trash can, and this time I knew without a doubt it came from my mom’s room. The door was ajar. A shadow moved across the crack. Four steps more. I put my thumb on the send button. Someone snuffled his nose and hummed a broken piece of a song. I knelt and peeked through the doorway. The dark shape of a hunched-over back sat at my mom’s vanity. An arm moved up and down with slow, deliberate jerks. And each jerk ended with a soft crunch, like somebody grinding broken glass into pavement with his heel. When the shadow turned to the side, I saw who it was.
“Hayes,” I said, loud enough to make him jump a couple inches off the seat. I snapped the phone shut. “How long have you been back here? What the hell are you doing?”
Hayes crossed the worn, green carpet to shut the door, but I beat him to it, wedging my foot in the gap right as he grabbed the handle.
“Little Flipper.” He tried a couple of different smiles out on me before he settled on one that made him look like he had to go to the bathroom. “Right. Shouldn’t you be in bed? School comes early and all that.” He looked down at his wrist, but he had no watch. “I didn’t even realize you were here.”
This was such an obvious lie I didn’t even respond to it. I went up on my toes to get a better look at what he’d been doing in there. He shifted his body to block my view. But I caught a quick glimpse anyway. A pile of crumpled Ziploc bags and two brown plastic serving trays from the hospital covered one side of the vanity table. On the other side was my grandma’s old wooden mortar and pestle and a Tupperware container with a long, yellow cigarette burn on
the lid. Hayes turned his face away and spit something into his hand, gave it a quick glance and then dropped it into the front pocket of his red plaid cowboy shirt.
I shifted back and forth, but he moved with me. A sort of half-assed country two-step. “Doing a little early evening grinding, huh?” I asked.
Hayes made a noncommittal grunting sound.
“Mom doesn’t mind you using all her stuff, I guess.”
I leaned my body to the left as though about to take a step in that direction and then faked him out and went right. He moved to the left to block me, but I slipped on by, smiling all the while. Once I stepped into the light, I saw a pile of orange pills and green pills on one of the hospital trays and a little mound of white powder in the Tupperware container. It looked to be pill pieces he was mashing up in the pestle, but the crunched-up bits weren’t orange or green.
“Doing some freelance work for the pharmacy? I’m glad you finally found a job.” If Mom knew about this shit, I thought, she’d jab him in the ass with a serving fork, and with good reason. “So if I ask Mom about this, she’ll know what you’re up to? She don’t mind you doing this in her room, huh?”
“Well, see …” Hayes kind of trailed off, nodding his head and chewing at his lower lip. “I’m in a bit of a jam here, Flipper. Your mom knows about the one part of this—”
I held up my hand. “Don’t, Hayes,” I said. “Ain’t none of it any of my concern. Don’t tell me about it. Please. Then I won’t have to lie for you if anyone asks. I don’t want to have any part in—” I waved my hand at the mess he’d left behind on the vanity table. “But I know one thing. Mom’d throw a huge fit if she saw your crap spread out like that. I can’t even start to guess why you chose her bedroom to do all this in.”
“I needed the wooden thing. You know, the—” He made a
grinding motion with his hand. “—the crunch-crunch thing over there. And you were sleeping and I didn’t want to, uh, disturb you. Look, I’ll finish up pretty quick and be out of your hair.” He pulled the little thing he’d spit into his hand out of his pocket and polished it with the hem of his shirt. It was a pill with greenish speckles on it. It looked to me like he’d been sucking the color off the pills and then mashing them into powder.
“No, no, no. You got to get this project or whatever it is out of here, Hayes. I can’t have the police coming in here, say, and finding you sucking on pills and then crunching them. That kind of bad thing. Mom would kill us both.”
“Hey, sure, no problem, I get it.” Hayes set to scooping up his stuff and dumping it into bags. He hummed that little tune again as he packed. The melody was cheerful and familiar and seemed to jolly him along a little. He picked up the mortar and pestle and stared at it for a long while in a blank way.
“Take it with you if you want. Just be sure to bring it back quick. Knowing Mom, she’ll get a notion to use that thing after work tomorrow for the first time in ten years.”
“Thanks, thanks. That’s perfect, Flipper. I’ll be out in a blink of a lamb’s tail.”
I walked back to the kitchen and stared at my reflection in the door of the microwave oven. I flashed on Mom being led out of the house in handcuffs. I leaned across the sink and took a drink of warm water from the faucet. Even then I knew this wouldn’t be the end of it. As I examined a newly formed whitehead above my eyebrow, the front door banged shut. I listened for the sound of his truck, but he must of walked from somewhere.
The world outside turned a deep, dusty blue. Along the roadside ditch, fireflies blinked. Crickets in the bush below the window complained about the heat. Somewhere in the endless evening sky beyond the backyard trees, heat lightning washed the horizon with
light. Gone even before I had time to name it for what it was. I said its name out loud afterward because the thought of it made me smile. “Heat lightning,” I told the empty kitchen. Right then I remembered the tune Hayes was humming. It was one Mom sometimes sang in the shower when she was in a good mood: “Sunshine Keeps Falling on My Head.”
met Logan Loy by complete accident. I became his friend on purpose. Dani and me were on the Internet when I first came across him, but we weren’t exactly playing The Game. We’d just finished a very short and intense session with a man who claimed to be a history professor from Liverpool who was visiting America. After a few silly small-talk messages, he told us he was doing something very nasty with a peeled carrot and wanted us to try it ourselves and tell him about it. He kept calling us “honey bunch,” which is what Dani’s dad sometimes called her, and this freaked her out a little. Dani pushed me aside to tell him carrots were only good for feeding pigs and other livestock, so what did that make him? He wrote back, lightning fast, “You’re a fatty, aren’t you, honey bunch? You’re the little fat piggy here. Not me.” Dani’s eyes welled up with tears. She jumped away from the computer as though it had snapped at her. He slipped in a few more messages before I could block him. “I’m going to tear a hole in your belly button and fuck your piggy fat. I’m going to hunt you down and kill you with my cock, honey bunch. Don’t think I can’t find you. I’m looking at you through your webcam right now.”
This last part startled even me because Wynn had set up a webcam the day before, although we’d yet to put it to use. Dani covered the golf ball-sized camera with her hand and then unplugged it. I thought maybe we should take a break from the computer. When I told her this, she did something strange. Her face wrinkled up like
a clenched fist and she pounded on the desk, shouting, “No, I’m not going to let that nasty man ruin my game!” She shouted this so loud her mom called down the stairs to see if she was alright. I suggested we try something a little different.
All this had Dani wired tighter than a broken jaw. I thought she needed distraction. Since Dani had been going on and on about wanting to see The Shins in concert, her favorite band from that soundtrack album, I hunted down their website.
“Look,” I said, “they’re all dressed like superheroes and lying in bed together.”
Dani pushed me aside and scrolled around looking for nearby concert dates. Per usual, she got hung up on the message board. There were only a few people leaving messages, but in no time at all, Dani had them sending her private messages.
After about ten minutes of this, Dani finally went to the bathroom and I took over. She’d waited just a drip too long to do it. As she waddled away, I noticed a small damp spot on the seat of her pants, and when she came back, she’d changed into shorts. I never said anything, knowing it’d cause an explosion of denials and a long period of silent treatment if I did, but it cheered me a good bit to see. The very moment I sat down, a fan named L.L. sent me a private message. He asked me my name and where I lived, and for some reason, I really to this day have no idea why, I broke the first rule of The Game and told him the truth. It turned out that L.L. lived in Savannah, about an hour’s drive from Metter.
“Are you going to the concert in Charleston next week?” Logan typed.
“That sounds great, but I don’t have a car right now.” And probably never will, I thought.
“What do you look like?”
I hesitated. Who’s talking here? Me? Dani? One of our combo dealies? Again, I told the truth. “Dark blond hair. 5’2”. Brown eyes.”
“I wish I could see you right now. It’s hard to imagine what you look like from six words. That’s the worst part about trying to talk this way.”
“I agree. Plus, everyone lies,” I typed, smiling. “Even though it’s impossible to imagine and you could be lying, what do you look like?”
Dani returned while I waited to find out. When I explained about L.L., she really lost it, telling me we had an agreement to always, always follow the rules and I’d broken the most important one. She said she felt betrayed and her face turned red again.
According to the clock on Dani’s computer, Logan Loy took exactly four minutes and twenty-three seconds to write back, which felt like an especially long time with Dani yelling at me the way she did. When his response finally came, it said, “5’11”. Blond hair. Blue eyes. 165 lbs. 25 yrs old.”
That’s when Dani changed the angry little tune she’d been singing. Or screaming.
“Oh, shit,” she said. “I can’t believe it.”
“What?” I said.
“He’s your exact type.”
“That’s if he’s telling the truth,” I said.
“Well, of course,” she said, stiffening up a little, “there’s always that.”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I thought you told me I wasn’t mature enough for someone that old.”
“The type is flexible when it comes to the age question, as long as it goes up and not down. The opposite is true of boys’ types. But according to his stats, this one’s perfect. You’ve got a keeper here.”
“What about his face? For all we know, he could have a face like an elephant’s ass. Or like Wynn’s.”
“There’s always that, too,” she said, using her
voice and rubbing her eyes the way her mom did
after she took off her reading glasses. “You’re always such a glass-half-empty person. Look at the full side for a change, and with this guy, it’s so far so full.”
Now that she’d decided it was a good thing, Dani was about five hundred times more excited than I was, but I’ll admit to being pretty interested in this L.L. person. As usual, completely unsure of myself about romantic questions, I took her advice to the letter. Literally. I asked him if he posted on this message board a lot. He said it was his first time, but he came to the website every once in a while to check on the concert schedule. I told him our story. Well, part of it, anyway. But for once, everything I wrote was true.