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Authors: Blair Mastbaum

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BOOK: Clay's Way
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              I follow.  There’s nowhere else to go. 

The lantern burns dimly in the tent.  Our shapes are indented in the plaid sleeping bags, like ghosts of me and him just lied here, through all that went on, molding to each other, and sharing warmth and love.

Part Three

Chapter 19

Don’t understand

This summer,
 
plumaria

Won’t share his colors.

             

              I wake up.  I feel like total shit.  My head is pounding.  This is a bad sign, but it’s stupid to try to read anything into a hangover. 

              Clay leans against his backpack looking out to sea, his golden brown back absorbing the warmth of the sun.  His dragon tattoo watches me and tells Clay I’m awake.  He turns around to look at me.  “How do you feel little Sammy?”

              “Like shit.  You?”

              “Promising.”

              I was hoping he’d forget about his newfound ambition.  “You still going?”

              “Yup.  But there’s something I want to do.  Like a ritual.  With you.”  He ducks into the tent, and grabs a Swiss Army knife from his backpack.  He balances the blade gently on his leg.

              I stare at the sharp metal, gleaming in the sunlight, but my view gets drawn up his surf short’s leg, where his skin is whiter and more naked-looking.

              He twists his arm around awkwardly to look at his shoulder and tattoo, a slender Chinese dragon clutching an empty ball in its menacing claws.  He points to the circle and traces it softly, almost sensually.  “Here’s where your name is going.  I’ve been saving this spot since I was 15.”

              I always stared at the empty circle, the dragon clutching and protecting only empty space.  It depressed me a little, like he didn’t 
have
 anything to put inside, like it was a generic design copied from a magazine.

              He spits on the blade and rubs it on his shorts till it shines.  “Hand me a lighter?”

              I hand him my green lighter.  On its side, there’s a white outline of a hand signing “Hang loose.”

              He grabs an expensive-looking pen, with 
Clay Anderson--Pipeline Junior Surfing Champion
 engraved on it, and unscrews the cap and pours some drops of black ink over his tattoo.  He dabs it off with a balled-up sock and picks up the knife and places the tip of the blade on his skin.  His movements are ritualistic and steady, like he’s a shaman and he’s about to exorcise an evil spirit or cure me of a century-long hex.  He bites his bottom lip and slices a letter “S” in the left side of the empty ball.

              My stomach clenches up.  I imagine the sharp burning and freezing sensations on his skin. 

              He shouldn’t be doing this.  When his brain resumes his normal arrogant, tough surferboy rhythms, he’ll regret this.  He’ll blame me for this scratched in, amateurish cutout in the middle of his beautifully blank tattoo.  His face turns red and the veins in his temple stick out.  His arm muscles tense up, making his forearm look like the arms of old sculptures of the great warrior Kamehameha.  He moves to the “A” quickly, without breathing, and then slices three out of four lines of the “M”.  Blood drips down his arm.  He looks like an injured soldier.  “Here.  Finish it.”  He presents the knife to me like it’s a royal staff. 

              I don’t want to be blamed for this. 

              If he ever comes back, my name will be proof that he was out of his mind, and if he stays the hippie he is now, I don’t want my name on his arm, anyway.  I still have a chance to make it say something besides Sam.  I can change the three lines of the M to an N and add an E and make it say 
sane
, although, that’s definitely not the case, but it sounds tough and hard-sounding. 

              Guys he knows would get tattoos that say 
sane
 on the back of their necks in old English script or Polynesian tiki letters. 

              I couldn’t squeeze in 
sanctify
, but that sounds pretty gnarly, too.  I wipe the blade on my shorts and it makes a thin red line of blood on the fabric.  I hold his shoulder, slippery from his sweat, and take a deep breath.  I push the blade on his skin till it pierces through with a slight pop and carefully slice that last line of the “M”. 

              He looks down at it and mouths, “Sam.” 

              It looks sort of cool, with thin blood trails on the letters.  It’s about as punk rock as anything I’ve ever seen.  I’d really love it if he told a dick joke or I saw some of his obsessive self-conscious bullshit right now or a fake tough look or a moment where I wasn’t sure if he wanted to hit me or kiss me.  This straight-out-I-love-you crap is unsatisfying and it’s all I ever wanted from him.

              “OK, man.  It’s official.”

              I don’t know what’s official, but I smile at him.  I dab his cuts and my name imprints smeared blood letters on the white sock.  The black ink settles in the cuts, becoming permanent as I wipe the excess blood away.  I secretly lick a little off my finger.  It tastes strong, like iron.

              He grabs me and kisses me, forcing his lips into mine.  The taste of the iron-filled blood penetrates both our mouths.  His stubble scrapes my chin.

              I get a boner immediately.  I feel a rush of confusion rush through me.  I don’t want the new Clay to turn me on. 

              He’s not real.  He’s a stranger.

              I wouldn’t have fallen in love with him.  “I love you.”  I had to say it. 

              “I love you, too, my mystic sea-boy.  Here’s my truck keys.  I’ll see you when my animal spirit asks to come back.  Maybe, a couple days, maybe more.”  He abruptly stands up, grabs his bag, and walks away, like a superhero who just saved lives, with a slight limp, and heavy, thoughtful breaths.

              I stand up.  “Aren’t you going to take anything?”

              “Gonna live off the land.”  He salutes and disappears into the forest.     

              I’ll remember him like this forever.  It’s one of those moments that I can already be sentimental about, like seeing a son grow to be a man or sending a boy off to war, knowing he might not come back.  I hope he doesn’t get an infection from my name.  My stomach growls, which comforts me in a weird way, as if it’s saying, “Life goes on,” but I know stomachs can’t think.  I can’t let him escape while he’s still a different person.  I might not ever get him back.  I look around the beach. 

              There’s no one around, except a couple surfers paddling out to the break.

              Clay’s footprints lead up to the back of the valley, where the white sand is overgrown with flowering bushes and moist green grasses and mosses growing out of almost fluorescent brown dirt.

                Anar’s tent is zipped up.

              I don’t want him to see me.  I don’t want to explain anything to him.  I’m better as just a mysterious encounter that he can think of fondly, or at least learn from.  Maybe, at least, I can be sort of a guiding ghost for him, a point of change that helps him decide who he finally is.

              He’ll probably tell his rich hippie parents about me, and they’ll blindly approve, just like they do with everything else he does.

              I take the bendable plastic rods out of the tent and the green nylon falls. 

              A tiny bright green gecko runs out from under the falling tent. 

              I guess he saw the whole thing between us.  I wish I could ask him for advice from his perspective.  Clay’s 
I love you
 meant nothing, knowing that he’s not himself.  It had no more importance than hearing a pre-recorded message on an answering machine.

              Anar steps out of his tent, rubbing sleep from his eyes.  He couldn’t have worse timing.

              I sit by myself on the sand, feeling empty, next to a collapsed tent and mess of strewn wet clothes, sleeping bags, and camping equipment.  I look like the model for the “fallen from grace” catalogue. 

              He must love seeing me so pathetic. 

              I’m giving him something by sitting here.  In the folds of the tattered looking, discarded-half-way-through-the-job tent are expressions of my desperation and anxiety.  My foot taps relentlessly and sweat runs down the sides of my torso.  My head pounds and my mouth is dry.  I think drug withdrawal would feel like this.  I secretly watch Anar’s delicate-looking feet dig into the sand as he stretches.  The sunlight on his skin gives him an angelic quality.  His calf muscles flex, then release.  The lines sewn on the shorts accentuate his hipbones and the thickening of his upper legs.  They make him look more masculine than he looked yesterday.  He’s older looking than I thought, and stronger and more assured.  He glances at me.

              Don’t talk to me.  Don’t talk to me.  Don’t talk to me.

              “Hey, Sam.  Beautiful morning, huh?”  He did it.  He’s so unperceptive.

              I look around to make him think I’m checking the weather.  I haven’t noticed, nor do I care.  “Yeah, I guess.  If you’re into sun.”  I don’t want to talk so I don’t let him have eye contact with me.

              “How’s Clay?  He seemed pretty out of last night when he burst into the tent.” 

              Shut up, you stupid motherfucker.  “He’s fine.”

              “He looked pretty insane to me.  Something in his eyes.”

              I think of Clay saying he had fire in his eyes.  “What do you care?  He’s great.”

              “Where’d he go?  I saw him take off about half-hour ago.”

              I look at Clay’s footprints.  “He left. I’m catching up with him later.” 

              “Yeah, sure.”

              “Listen, stupid.   It was a huge mistake.  Clay’s normal.  He just wanted to get started earlier than I did, that’s all, so quit trying to freak me out.  It’s not going to work.  You’re just jealous.”

              A big, puffy cloud shades me, but Anar remains in the sun.  I can see the dividing line between us.

              “Hey,” he holds his hands up in front of him, “just reporting what I saw, man.  He looked pretty scared to me.”  This kid has balls.  Maybe, he’s the curse I’ve felt is over me since we’ve been here on this isolated beach.  It’s him who makes the cliffs look dangerous and makes violent storms come one after another.

              “Leave me alone.  Clay’s perfect.  I’m perfect.  I regret ever meeting you.”  This is gruesome.  I shove our shit and the tent into my backpack.  I can’t believe it all fits.

              “My sister said she was worried about him.  She said she detected some sort of brain malfunction.”

              “You’re lying.  Shut up.  He’s the same.  He’s better!”  I’m lying.  He’s changed.  He’s horrible.

              “You’ll see.”  He runs out to the ocean and dives into a wave.

              I unzip my backpack and get out my journal.  I sit down on the sand to write.  I write a haiku.  
Hippie boy dreamer, you look lonely to me, sorry for making you think of me.  -Sam  
 I tear out the page and stick it in Anar’s tent. 

              I zip my pack and stand up and look around.  The clouds, the trees, and Clay’s footsteps indented in the sand all lead the way out of here.  I run to the trail heading up the valley, smoothing out me and Clay’s footprints in the sand as I go.  I climb the first big hill and find a bluff that looks over the beach.  Maybe, I can make more sense of the weirdness down there from the perspective of the trees. 

              The insane sexual energy from last night has vanished, maybe stolen to the same place as Clay’s real personality.  One by one, people emerge from their tents and tarps and grass beach huts, and face the new day as different people, changed by the night of chaos, lust, and gluttony.

              Anar comes out of the water and does the same Tai Chi exercises that he was doing when I arrived.  He acts like I didn’t leave, or never arrived.  He isn’t pissed off, angry, or jealous.  He forgot about me already or maybe I was never there.  Maybe we managed to exist between the flashes of light that the eyes use to construct images.

Depression overcomes me.  I can’t trust myself anymore.  I remember just a week ago when love meant one thing.  Now, it means anything from jealousy to revenge to lust to a real connection.  No one will understand.

Chapter 20

Lost 16 boy soul

 

Deep green jungle doesn’t have

 

Sympathy for him

              

              The shady green of the forest soothes my eyes and the cool, wet clay mud trail feels good on my bare feet.  I feel like I’m out on a safari or bird-watching expedition, except I’m looking for Clay, a rare species that can blend into natural environments as well as a ghost can.  Maybe he’s changed into his spirit animal already.  A chameleon darts in front of me and up onto a big volcanic rock.  That could be him.  I have no idea how I’ll find him.  It’s hard enough when we’re sitting in the same room. 

His inconsistencies are starting to make me think he never existed. 

***

             

I run up the trail, barely hanging on to the two backpacks that are making my shoulders red and raw.  I walk up a steep hill.  I recognize a huge boulder on the top.  It’s the place where I stopped to watch Clay cry.  I can’t remember what I said to him to make him so freaked out.  I throw down the bags, take my shirt off, and lie back and watch the trees.  I try to let the sun bleach out this evil I feel I’ve done, all while I was trying to do good.

              This is the place that I felt I won him over in a way, almost like finally succeeding in breaking a wild horse.  How could I have thought he’d change inside, for anyone else than himself?  He’s mastered changing his outside for people, so he doesn’t have to change what’s inside. 

              The tree branches stir loudly in the wind.  I sit up and face the breeze, so it dries me.  I see where our campsite was.  I scan the area and look for signs of how we were when we were there.  One of Clay’s shirts hangs on a branch. He forgot it.  A half-burnt log is still in the firepit and the weeds are smashed down where the tent was set up.  There’s no sign of the confusion I felt, the frustration and lust.  Amazingly, the site looks like anyone could have used it, from serial murderers on the lam to a happy couple who smoke lots of pot.  This disappoints me.  When we were there, it was important.  That small patch of forest was the center of my world.

              I start my walk back to the road to wait for the shuttle to the airport.  I walk for hours and finally see the edge of the forest.  It’s bright and glaring after three days of no concrete.

              The van pulls up almost magically. 

              I get in.  “Hey.”

              The guy looks back.  “Aloha, brah.  Howzit?”

              “Pretty weird, man.”  I stare out the window, the trees becoming blurs of green.

              The plane ride makes me feel like I’m being pulled into another dimension.  We land and I run ahead of everyone down the aisle.  I crave the familiar smells of Clay’s truck.  I stand up straight, breathe in the air, and run out to the parking lot and find his truck.  I grab the key out of my pocket.  There’s another key on the ring, his house key I guess, and there’s a small locker type key that probably unlocks the carport storage where he keeps his surfboards and BMX bike.  I unlock the door and hop in.  The interior smells like a mixture of the ocean, Clay’s sweat, and dirt.  I love it.  I look through the grimy windshield and push his “Punk Rock 92” tape into the player.  I pull out onto the road as the music starts. 

              It’s a song called 
Fuck
 
You, You Don’t Understand
 that Clay sings to himself whenever he’s pissed off or he thinks something is lame.  I guess he wouldn’t identify with it anymore.  I take the long way home, out to the country and along the north shore, the Kamehameha Highway to Kaneohe.

              Hawaiian kids wait at the bus stops and boys holding surfboards under their arms skateboard by on the shoulder.  Driving this pickup, I feel like I belong to this pack of wolves that roam these parts, the beaches where the best-shaped waves in the world arch over and fall into themselves at the last possible moment.

              Half-naked guys, with deep tans and bleached hair, wax their surfboards on the side of the road, on the open tailgates of their pickups.  Some of them nod to me, like I’m one of them.

              I didn’t know it was so easy to be Clay--from a distance, anyway.  I’m wearing his shorts.  My skin’s been tanned the same color as his.  I’ve got his truck with his Etnies skateboard shoe key chain hanging out of the ignition.  I smell like him, too, in the confines of the cabin.  I feel free, cruising down the road, looking at people who think I’m like them. 

              The ocean looks as sparkly as diamonds and delicately blue and the wind coming in the window is soft and moist.  I pull into the Waimea Bay Beach parking lot, a place that I would never go alone before, scared of being confronted by assholes.  But now I’m comfortable and the people look nice.  It’s my beach as much as it is theirs.

The occasional drift of stringy pot smoke rises into the air from the groups of people gathered in the picnic areas.  I park the truck in an open space on the grass beside the full parking lot.

              Two girls sit on the back tailgate of an old El Camino and three Hawaiian guys sit below them on the ground with their legs crossed.  One is plump, jolly and stoic at the same time, and the other two are slim, with their whole upper arms pattered with triangular Polynesian tattoo bands.  One has long hair that’s blowing in the wind covering half his face, making him look important and deep.  They’re playing small polished ukuleles, creating sounds more soothing than wind and waves, deep and graceful tones ranging from high picks to low hearty lulls.  The most modern looking of the three, a skinny guy with a flower behind his ear, sings in Hawaiian.  The staccato rhythm and exaggerated vowels sound cool and foreign.  The sun lights them with a warm yellow glow.  It’s incredible to see such tough-looking guys, macho assholes, sit around and sing gentle and beautiful music as soft as the ocean breeze.

              It’s not so bad around here.  I feel like a tourist must feel: free and open to the ways of the island, dare I say, “Aloha spirit,” the phrase every annoying girl and guy in my school says to describe the islands to their friends on the Mainland.  I always felt like some sort of inferiority complex led them to talk about Aloha spirit, because the kids here know deep down that they’re isolated and sheltered from what most people consider the “real world,” but maybe they mean it.  Maybe it’s real. 

              I get out of the truck.  Clay’s surf shorts that I’m wearing are long and blue with lighter blue waves, shaped like fire, down the sides.  The sun makes the material shiny, and accentuates the tanned color of my skin from days outside on the beach.  I think my calves are a little more muscular from the hike, if it’s possible that quickly, and my arms look more defined, with some veins sticking out like on Clay’s arms.  I walk down the row of cars and trucks, dangling and twirling the key chain, passing all kinds of people--pink tourists in teal sedans, local families with packed lunches and young kids, and groups of kids from my age to out of high school. 

              Guys with tight, flat chests come out of the bathroom changing area in bright and flower printed shorts with white puka shell necklaces.  Mocha-colored girls with come out of the other side of the shelter wearing bright bikinis. 

              I walk across the grassy picnic area onto the hot white sand.

              Marines with dumb tattoos throw footballs around, happy to be in the hot sun, far away from their Midwestern homes. 

              The beach is wide and shaped like an open clamshell, sloping and rounded at the front of a half-oval shaped bay.  Cliffs at the back are covered with trees that hide steep trails up to the road where people park when the lot’s full. 

              At the far end of the beach is “the rock.”  That’s what everybody who lives here calls it.  It’s a black peninsula, a sudden outcrop of jagged lava rock with a flat top.  It rises fifty feet above the waves.

              I walk down the beach past Japanese tourists.  The combination of shadows and sunlit areas on my body make me look like Clay--with muscles and substance to my torso.  I feel salty mist off the ocean and it makes tiny transparent hairs on my chest stick together with minuscule white grains of salt.  My eyes follow the almost invisible mist into the water below the looming rock.  Lots of boogie-boarders are all squashed into what looks like a swirling, boiling cauldron of water. 

I run into the water.  It’s as warm as piss and it feels good on my skin, rinsing away the smelly sweat of two days of worrying and Clay almost dying and total complete panic and sex and work and hiking.  I swim over to the rock, grab on to the sharp outcropping, and start to climb.

              A big Hawaiian-Samoan kid I’d normally be terrified of boosts me up and I scramble up the rock.

              A Vietnamese kid with a buzz cut flies over me, holding his knees to his chest.  He looks like a ball of brownish yellow skin with a head.

              I reach the top and pull myself up. 

              It’s packed from ledge to ledge with teenagers and big tattooed Hawaiian and Portugue guys and pretty local tomboys with long black hair.  All the colors of tan skin blend into each other, making a painting of golden browns and yellows.  There’s a 
no jumping
 sign ignored by all and pools of salt water in the cracks and crevasses of the sun-baked and foot-worn rock.

              I feel like I’ve stepped into someone’s living room that I don’t know.  Everyone hangs out here, on the top of the rock, for hours at a time, talking, gossiping, screaming, kissing, and always, finally, jumping, but I never have.  I didn’t used to belong here.

              “Try jump, brah,” an older Hawaiian boy says to me, but he’s distracted by his friend showing off with a triple flip into the water.  “So, trow party?”  The local guys always say that when they think someone’s showing off.  They act like they don’t like show-offs, but they secretly love them.

              I sit down on the rock and lie back to let the sun, mist, and drips of water rolling off the arms and chests and shaking heads of the wet jumpers clean me and refresh me.  I feel almost ecstatic watching my comrades.  We’re all trapped on the island together away from the world and I actually feel all right about that right now.  I stare into the sky till I fall asleep.

***

                                                                     

Silence wakes me.  The comforting sounds of chaos are gone.  Me and the low sun are all that’s left on top of the rock.  I’m lying on a green palm leaf pattern beach towel that’s not mine or Clay’s.  I don’t know where it came from.  It smells like someone else’s laundry combined with the slightest scent of sweat.  I guess someone left it for me, or didn’t want to wake me to get it. 

              The sky has turned an electric blue with burnt-looking edges.  The light has a buzz, like electric particles or spirits are flying around, getting ready to dash and hide for the night. 

              I get up and stretch. 

              Just a few people remain on the beach, flapping their towels and holding their swim trunks open under the showers to rinse away the sand inside.  Three girls smoke a joint and watch the sunset.

              I walk down the beach with the towel over my shoulder.

              Surfers are gathered around the lifeguard stand, drinking beer, watching the light fade, and talking about girls or cars or waves.  The lifeguard’s the center of attention in the crowd- the pack leader, who they all look up to in some little boy sort of way. 

              I scale down the rock and walk past them and recognize a few from Steve’s party.

              “Hey, bro.”  A tough-looking black-haired guy says to me.

              I can’t believe the guy talked to me.  “Aloha.”  I nod and walk by them. 

              Clay’s truck is the only car left in the lot.  It stands out like a mohawked punk rocker alone in a mall, not concerned about much else other than himself. 

              I get inside and breathe in deeply.

              The guys all look over at me and nod their heads.  Maybe they recognize Clay’s truck. 

              I’m sure they know him.  I turn the parking lights on--the orange ones without the headlights--like all the cool Hawaii guys do at dusk, and the instrument panel lights up a videogame looking orange.  It makes the truck more fun to drive.  I pull out onto the road and drive away. 

I pass by fields of cartoon-looking banana trees, horse pastures, small towns with hard to say Hawaiian names like Kaaawa, with half closed-down shopping centers and Poi factories.  More beaches along the road--Shark’s Cove, Pipeline, Sunset, an island shaped like a cone with a brim called “Chinaman’s hat.”  Houses light up as I drive past.

              With Clay gone, I feel more complete.  I don’t want to go home.  I already feel like I’m home in Clay’s truck, and going to my real house will feel false and empty, and I’ll get depressed.  Maybe it’s his life I’ve been in love with and not him.

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