Authors: Blair Mastbaum
“What are you looking at?”
“I thought I heard someone talking.”
“Quit trying to avoid looking me in the eye, Clay.”
He sighs. “I’m not. OK? Wanna go? My mom’s gonna invite her friend over to eat, so it’s fine.” He sits down on his bed.
I feel sorry for Susan. All her years of being a great mother wiped out by one rude demand.
“In a minute, Clay. Hold on.” Tammy sits down on the bed and reaches over to Clay’s chest and feels around inside his shirt, rubbing his chest. She slides her hand down his stomach and onto his crotch.
His legs open slightly wider and he raises his T-shirt a little at the bottom, so there’s an opening between his shorts and his shirt.
My stomach burns. I need a cigarette, 10 cigarettes. The veins in my temples are pulsing hard with blood and chemicals. My eyes have no need to blink. My heart races faster than I’ve ever felt it. My impulse is to jump out if the closet, rip that girl’s hand off Clay, throw her across the room, and mutilate her. I want this girl out of here and back into the part of my brain that only dreaded this actually happening. I want her fucking hands off Clay before I go insane.
Get away from him, you slut!
She works her hand into Clay’s pants. The waistband of his underwear holds her wrist like a bracelet. Clay just sits there, her hand on his dick. It better not be hard.
She reaches deeper into his pants and starts jacking him off fast, like total hamster-speed.
He thrusts slightly into her hand.
I lean forward to see his face better. My head presses against the door.
His head’s back and his eyes are closed. His neck looks sexy, sinuous, shiny with sweat. Maybe he’s thinking about me.
He had his eyes open when we were doing shit.
Tammy moves her hand up and down and pulls down the front of his shorts. Her hand’s on his boner. Light tan, peach-colored perfect smooth skin and his dark pubic hair.
I can’t breathe.
She looks like she’s doing some sort of nursing procedure. It looks like porn. A weird mix of sexuality and disinterested ritual.
I get a hard-on. It confuses me. I’m full of so much feeling. Turned on, fucked over, jealous enough to murder. A rich lady would take a Valium now. I need heroin.
Tammy unbuttons her shirt and keeps jerking off Clay with her other hand. Her pale tits plop out. Clay doesn’t look at them. Tammy slides her hand down her body and lifts her skirt above her waist. She slides her hand into her underwear.
Clay comes. I see it shoot up a little and run down Tammy’s knuckles.
She keeps jerking him off though. “Fuck me, Clay.”
He looks like he’s in pain. His lips are snarled up and his eyes are wide.
She’s abusing him, exploiting him. She should treat him like a fucking prince.
This bitch doesn’t know that it fucking hurts to jerk off after you’ve already come.
“Tammy, sweetie, I came.” He says this with an odd mix of affection and disbelief, but not anger, as I hoped.
“Oh... fuck... oh… oh Clay, baby… oh God… fuck me...” She’s totally acting like she’s in a porno movie, like she everything she knows she learned from watching one. A thin layer of sweat coats her skin. Clay looks into her eyes as she’s coming, or giving birth, or whatever the fuck she’s doing. He laughs when she’s done--a sort of small, affectionate laugh.
“Why are you laughing?”
“Because you looked cute”--he wipes his nose with his arm--“and because you’re so dramatic.”
“Nice--the first time we even do anything in like… months, and you don’t even fuck me.”
Hearing this makes me feel gross. I’ve got to get out of here. It’s not right to be spying on this shit. I won’t be able to be pissed off at him later if I hear all this. I already feel too sorry for him.
“OK, Tammy, let’s just go. I don’t want to argue. Let’s go eat.” I can hear anger buried deep in his voice.
Tammy gets up off the bed, adjusts her pants, and walks to the door. She opens it and leaves. “I’ll meet you outside.”
He takes a last look around the room and gets his wallet from the top of his dresser. He picks a T-shirt up from the floor and smells it. He puts it on, then leans down, and picks up a chunk of green surf wax. He rubs it hard and then beams it at the wall. It takes a chunk out of the paint where it hits. His lizard jumps in its cage. Clay walks over to him. “Sorry, bro.” He walks out, closing the door behind him.
The room has a deafening buzz, like their energy is still here, still battling. At least Tammy’s gone, even if Clay had to leave to get rid of her.
She’s horrible. My worst fears are confirmed.
Clay not only still wants to be with Tammy, he’ll do it even when she’s treating him like shit. His feelings about her are convoluted and fucked up. How can he be so stupid? How can he not see what’s going on?
I get up and stretch my legs. I open my pack and steal some pot from his dealer boy drawer and take a couple of his wifebeaters and a pair of his boxers just in case I never see him again and he gets stolen into Tammy World for all eternity. I smell his mom’s cooking and instantly get really hungry, like totally completely hungry--on the verge of passing out Sahara Desert style.
She turns the stereo on. Joni Mitchell’s high-pitched voice echoes down the hall.
I zip my pack and lie back on Clay’s bed, the place where the horrible coupling took place. I don’t smell Tammy, but I do smell Clay. I can’t believe the bed’s not tainted by her. Lying here seems to calm me, but it’s deceiving. She was here.
I hear Susan on the phone. “OK, Linda. Sure. No problem. I’ve been looking forward to a night alone anyway. I can get some painting done. Right. OK, talk to you later. Night.” She turns up the music.
I’m not sure what to do, how to get out of here. I have nothing to do tonight. I walk over to Clay’s window. It looks easy to escape, but I’m sure he never had to do it. My window’s practically a door, I use it so much. I feel the screen. It looks easy to take out. I unscrew the dusty aluminum screws and the screen falls out onto a shrub. I strap my pack on and jump out and squeeze awkwardly between the sill and the top of the window, which won’t open very high for some reason. I land on the screen, which makes the other side pop up and hit my leg. It stings. I trip over a wooden stake--a support for a young tree--and land sideways in the wet dirt.
This is pathetic. I lie in the mud outside Clay’s window in the dark while he and Tammy drive to some fancy dinner with candles and wine. I look up into the night sky. The moon shines down on me through high clouds and the breeze makes my dirty shirt sway across my chest. The big puffy clouds are being swept away by a high-pressure center or maybe a distant hurricane. I can hear the music when the breeze blows a certain way.
A young hippie-sounding girl sings about being in love and not being loved back.
I cry. All this thinking is doing me no good. I feel a huge emptiness in my chest. I want to destroy something. I can’t stop crying. Why does love have to make me feel so terrible? I wonder if Clay knows what he’s doing to me. If he doesn’t, I’m even worse off. I feel so alone. I want to fly away. I want to die. I want to be romantic with someone. And look at me--pathetic. Everyone else is with the person they love--kissing, hanging out, smoking weed--and I’m crying alone in the grass in front of some guy’s house, trying to be quiet so no one notices me. This fucked up haiku comes into my head:
Lonely boy tears, mixing with raindrops, can’t tell the difference.
There has to be more. I feel a frown on my face that I have no control over. I press my ear to the ground. I can hear something--like vibrations. Maybe, it’s highway noises from far away, maybe cars screeching around corners, or a distant earthquake, but I’d like to think it’s the earth. It makes me feel less alone to know that the earth lives and breathes and feels things like I do. I hate to be like this, so hippie-boy.
I get up and brush off leaves and dirt from my shorts and T-shirt. I spit on my hands, rub them together till they look clean, and wipe them on the grass. I walk around to the front of the house. The door is still cracked open.
Lonely moon night sky
Can’t console the hard aching:
Teenage boyhood soul
My knuckles make a rattly, tinny sort of knock on the flimsy aluminum screen door.
Susan doesn’t answer, but Sharky comes running up barking.
“Hello? Hi, boy.”
“Hello?” Susan yells over the music.
“Uhh… hi. It’s Sam.”
“Sam?” She walks up holding an almost empty wineglass, and smiling. “Hey, handsome, you scared me.” That’s nice of her to say, ‘cause I’m sure I look horrible, especially by adult standards. She looks up at the sky behind me. “Clay’s not here, sweetie. He just left a couple minutes ago. I’m surprised you didn’t see him driving down the hill.”
I turn around to see what she’s looking at. The sky looks ominous. It’s multi-colored blue, white, and black, like a haunted watercolor painting--the perfect backdrop for me, a wreck of a person. “But... his truck’s here.” I have to make this convincing.
“Oh, Tammy drove.”
Tears fill my eyes before I can stop them.
“Come in, sweetie.” She opens the screen door. “Are you OK?”
I nod and follow her through the house to the screened-in porch out back. I throw my muddy backpack on the floor. The dampness on my skin starts to evaporate. I sit on a chair facing the backyard.
Susan looks outside, her head tilted upward to the sky, with a totally relaxed expression on her face. “The wind is soothing, don’t you think?”
“I hope it rains. There’s nothing like rain.” I wipe my nose with my arm. And I hope Tammy dies a painful death tonight--maybe bad fish poisoning.
“I couldn’t agree more.” She sits on the sofa, next to a table that’s holding a half-read novel and a bottle of red wine. “Clay loves rain too.”
I burst out crying.
“What’s wrong, Sam?”
I wipe my eyes with my T-shirt sleeve and try to stop crying by holding my breath. I have to tell her how I’m feeling. If I keep this inside, I’ll explode, burst into bloody pieces. “There’s this person I really like and I’m not sure if they like me back.” My face rushes with red, hot blood. That was hard to say.
“What do you feel in your heart?”
“I think they like me but won’t admit it to themselves because they’re scared.”
Sharky runs in and lies down by my feet. He feels soft and warm.
Susan looks at him. “I think he likes you.”
He likes me.
No, she’s talking about the dog.
We look at each other. An embarrassing connection forms.
Moms know everything. She has to know Clay likes me, if he does.
I want to ask her, but I’m way too ashamed. My tears have dried, forming salty paths down both cheeks. I lick what I can reach with my tongue. The salt tastes good. I put my hand under my chin and watch it rain outside. Now my hand’s been there too long. It looks posed. I look out the window. Now it looks like I’m trying to avoid being intimate, avoiding eye contact whenever the situation gets tense, like I don’t understand how to get close because my parents were cold when I was growing up. I’ll just be what she expects me to be--if I only knew what that is. I wish I could go jack off. I should have just done it on Clay’s bed after they left. I’d probably feel normal right now if I had. That’s what I need to do. Now, I just feel trapped.
“Would you like some dinner? I made some pasta.”
Clay and Tammy just left her, and I saw how that made her feel. “Yeah, I know... uh... I mean, yeah. Sure.”
She walks into the kitchen.
“Thank you.” I listen to the music. It’s great. My stoned daze is wearing off. My eyes feel droopy.
She walks in, carrying a bowl of pasta and a big glass of red wine. She hands me the bowl formally, like I’m an official guest.
She doesn’t look me in the eye. Maybe she knows I’m sad about something that isn’t the easiest thing in the world to talk about. If she knew it was about Clay, I bet she’d freak out. Not that she’d be freaked out about him being queer or whatever, but she wouldn’t like the thought of her blood, her son, making me feel so sad. She looks out into the backyard. “I’m worried about that Japanese Maple. It looks so fragile in this wind.”
I see what she’s talking about, a newly planted tree tied up with two stakes, and I tell her, “I’m sure it will be OK. It’s a tree. They’re used to that sort of thing.”
She laughs and touches me on the shoulder, cautiously, like I’d jump if she did anything more--but I love it. I love being touched by her. I take a bite of the pasta, which is excellent.
She drinks wine and watches the wind sweep the lawn and clear away dead leaves and branches.
My knife slips in between the tongs of the fork. It looks sexual.
She looks down at my silverware, then quickly looks away.
When Clay’s on my mind, anything can be taken sexually.
The screens billow in, then get sucked out by the wind. The screen door at the front of the house opens, then slams shut.
“Who is it that you like?” Susan looks at me with a sense of adventure on her face.
I can feel Clay’s name forming on my tongue. What if she gets angry? All these people around trying to steal her son from her. “No one you know. Why didn’t Clay and Tammy eat here with you?” I take a huge gulp of wine.
“It’s complicated. Tammy wants me to think it’s because she wants to be alone with him, but I think she’s a little jealous of me. She’s possessive. I don’t think Clay will put up with that forever. He’s a free spirit.”
Is she saying this because she knows? Why else would she tell me about Tammy? This is so fucking great. She doesn’t like Tammy anymore. She’s ready for me.
“Clay told me something about not being around when she’s here.” I can’t believe I just said that.
“I’m sure. She thinks you’ll steal him away.”
“But... that’s stupid.”
She fills my glass. Her teeth and tongue are stained red. “Is it?”
Oh, fuck. She knows.
I look out into the backyard. The ferns are look white because they are being blown to one side and the wooden fence is rattling hard. “Something big’s going down.”
“Last time I saw winds like this, I heard roofs flying off of houses. It really makes you appreciate life, doesn’t it?”
“Without it, we’d be dead.” I smile. Lightning lights my face so bright, I’m sure she can see it needs to be washed.
She takes the empty wine bottle into the kitchen.
I’m pretty sure this is fun. I wish Clay was here with us. I think he would be jealous if he knew I was here with his mom in this storm having a great time. I hope he’s having a horrible time.
Susan walks back in with a joint and another bottle of wine.
“Oh, my God, that’s so cool.”
“It’s only a joint. Don’t be a square. It’s a special occasion. And don’t ever come around and ask me for pot. We’ll say this one’s for
, the Hawaiian god who watches the skies for omens, and
, the expert of weather. Pray for him to spare the roof and the trees.” She takes a hit and coughs.
I take a big hit and hand it back to her.
The music picks up, a happy song. The newly planted Japanese Maple is holding up all right--as I suspected.
Joni Mitchell does a song about what we’re doing: laughing and drinking.
We sing along together, smiling the entire time. I feel sorta stupid, letting myself dork out so much, but I know the record well from hanging out with Jared’s sister, Kendra, and it’s the perfect song for the occasion.
A huge gust of wind blows. Aluminum lawn furniture gets tossed across the backyard, barely making it over the fence into the next house’s yard.
The emergency hurricane siren blows. It sounds out-of-date, but utterly serious and desperate.
A big branch falls from an old mango tree near the back of the yard where it meets the neighbor’s yard. It’s a violent, cracking, spiked sound. It crashes onto this lightweight aluminum lawn shed Clay uses for a workshop. The sky is deep blue with a black tint. Far away, I hear what sounds like a house being ripped apart, board by board. Big, full, loud, amplified crunches and squeaky strains. I tell Susan, “Hope we’re gonna be OK here.”
The lights go out. It takes us a second to realize. The hurricane siren blares again, growing louder when the wind shifts in our direction. “Where’s Clay?” I sort of whisper. A horrible image flashes in my mind of Clay thrown in some water-swollen ditch, bewildered and terrified, trying to get up before he drowns, but not being able to because his leg is shattered.
A power transformer explodes on the next street over, shooting up white sparks. Artificial snow-white flashes make the house behind us back-lit for milliseconds. Shutters fly off the back of the house next door. They fly across the yard and ram into the fence. The potted hanging spider plants knock against each other in the wind. Soil flies up and sticks on the wet screen. The lights on the next street over go off with a flash.
Clay’s dog cowers under the chair I’m sitting in, which makes me scared. Animals have an excellent sense of oncoming tragedy, when to be scared and what to ignore. He starts barking fiercely, like he’s defending himself.
Susan gets up quickly, runs out the flapping screen door into the rain and wind. She kicks dirt and mud around the base of the young tree. Her big, flowing, hibiscus-flowered
whips around like a flag on a windy day. As she gets soaked, I can see the shape of her body underneath her dress. She’s skinny and her kneecaps stick out like mine. Her breasts are like a high school girl’s. Her hair is soaked. She’s possessed. She’ll do anything for that tree. Suddenly, she stops and looks up into the sky. Wind and rain pelt her. “You have to feel this, Sam. Come out here.”
Several metal sheets whip through the sky above the backyard.
I walk outside. The raindrops feel like icicles. The wind feels like it could carry me away. I hear the sound of a big tree branch breaking. It crackles through the air like electricity. It feels like nothing I’ve ever felt, and makes all my problems seem small. I’m speechless for awhile, at one with the sky, then tell her, “This is incredible.”
She nods crazily. “Would you look at that moon? It’s absolutely stunning. Well, it’s gone now. Watch for it, Sam. It’s worth the wait.”
The moon pokes through thick, black clouds. I’m amazed it’s still up there in its calm, cold vacuum, untouched by all this.
I see two Hawaiian guys in the carport beyond the yard.
They look like brothers. They walk to the back of the carport and grab surfboards. They peel away in a pickup truck, tires spinning on the wet pavement.
We walk inside, soaked and exhilarated. I’m happy nature can be as angry, angsty, and crazy as me.
Susan picks up the wine bottle, searching for something. “Where’s your glass, Sam?”
“Uhh...” I’m too stoned to remember. I spot it, lying on the floor, shattered, reflecting light in a hundred directions, like a star. “Oh, shit. Sorry.”
“Storms have a way of disguising the reality of our plane of existence.” She sounds like such a stoner.
“Yeah.” I start laughing. The wind picks up even stronger. I hear a horrible, loud metal bang.
“That sounded like a car accident.” Susan looks toward the house, with a terrified look on her face.
“Yeah, and totally close.” I get up and follow her to the front door.
She swings it open. The warm rain stings our faces. “Oh, my God!”
Her car, a blue Toyota, is dwarfed by a thick tree branch lying on its totally smashed-in hood. It looks like a car dressed up as a tree for Halloween.
She looks up at the sky, and the rain beats down on her face. “You don’t know how many times I’ve wanted to do this myself!” she shouts, laughing.
Quickly, the sky turns a deep midnight blue. The winds stop. The trees regain their composure. A couple more leaves fall, then all is still--too still.
We walk out to the street, where newspapers touch down and get glued to wet pavement. The air haunts slowly around and fills our lungs with oxygen picked up from hundreds, maybe thousands of miles away.
“I think we’re in the eye, Sam.” She looks straight up to the sky, where some stars shine through.
I see a bit of Clay in her profile. “How long will it last?”
“Maybe 20 minutes, maybe less.”
I feel the circle of energy surrounding us.
“The hurricane plays games with us just like people play games with each other.”
I feel like I should say something like she said, something deep-sounding. “Yeah,” I say. “It’s cool.”