Authors: Will Overby
After an hour, just when he thought he couldn’t take
the boredom any longer, he felt a hand on his shoulder. Shelley and Abby had
appeared behind him. Seeing them again immediately charged his system, and the
three of them were soon on the floor with everyone else. Shelley produced more
of her magical tablets, and again he felt that wonderful, beautiful connection
to everyone and everything. This time, however, he was prepared for it, and
the feeling wasn’t quite as intense.
For the second night in a row, the three of them
ended up in the same bed together. It was an apartment that Shelley and Abby
shared, he discovered, but he never could quite figure out if the two of them
shared the bed when they were alone. Again, the sex was mind-blowing and when
he awoke this time, he was at least still in the bed between them, the morning
sunlight spilling over the white sheets and their tangled limbs.
He climbed carefully from the bed and pulled on his
jeans, lit a cigarette and looked around for his shirt.
“What’re you doin’?” said a groggy voice. It was
Abby, brushing her tangled curls from her eyes.
“I gotta go,” he said.
“It’s too early.”
“It’s after ten.”
“Stay and have breakfast.”
He slipped on his shirt and stepped into his shoes.
“I can’t. I really gotta go.”
Abby flopped back down. “Your clothes from the
other night are on that chair over there.”
He found them and tucked them under his arm, then
knelt beside her, kissing her twice on the lips. “Give one of those to Shelley
She smiled sleepily. “You’re beautiful,” she said,
and then she was drifting off again.
Outside, the sun was dazzling and blinding as he
left town, and when he got to the house, he was relieved to see Marla’s car was
gone. He tossed his dirty clothes in the laundry room and grabbed a bowl of
spaghetti from the refrigerator. He stood at the kitchen sink, staring through
the window at the back yard and the barn, slurping down the cold noodles and
acrid sauce until the bowl was empty.
He had promised Derek they would work on the
Mustang, and he had blown it off yesterday, thinking today would be better.
But here he was, dog-ass tired and hung over again, and he knew there was no
way he would feel like bending over an engine out in the heat.
He was just like Clifton.
, he thought.
When Wade was thirteen, puberty had hit him like a
brick wall. Seemingly overnight he went from a scrawny little kid to a
six-foot teen who had to shave at least twice a week. His hormones had been
working overtime; in addition to the occasional wet dreams (which were scary at
first, but he grew to look forward to them) and the sudden appearance of hair
in all kinds of strange places, Wade was cursed with a severe case of acne.
His face and shoulders—even his back and arms—erupted in ugly, angry, red
blemishes that sometimes swelled to the size of boils. He tried everything to
rid himself of them—soaps, lotions, ointments. Nothing seemed to help. If he
had known then that in a year or so the condition would suddenly disappear,
almost like magic, it might not have been so unbearable. The physical pain was
bad enough, but the torment of going to school with his appearance was pure
One day while he was standing in line in the
lunchroom some ass-wipe two years his senior made the mistake of calling him
“leper,” apparently trying to coin a new nickname. Wade jumped on him and beat
the shit out of him, breaking a lunch tray over the fucker’s head in the
process. He had been suspended for three days over the incident, but no one had
made fun of him again. Ever.
Unfortunately, Clifton was out of work at the time,
and he spent his days getting drunk and railing against everything he didn’t
agree with. Though he especially hated the government and taxes, he wasn’t
above going off on a tangent when the occasion called for it. When Wade was
sent home, Clifton demanded an explanation. Wade gave it to him—told him what
the guy had said to him, what he had called him, and what Wade had done to
him. For an instant, Clifton’s eyes were clear and lucid; the next moment they
were drunk and hazy. “You know what causes them pimples,” Clifton told him.
“It’s because you play with yourself too goddamned much. You leave your cock
alone, them things’ll go away.”
Infuriated, Wade stormed off to his room, not only
insulted and offended by Clifton’s remarks but wounded by his lack of
understanding and sympathy. He flopped on his bed, his eyes stinging with
angry, hurt tears. In a little while, drained by everything that had happened,
he fell asleep.
He was awakened abruptly by his door being flung
open. Clifton stood just outside his room, swaying slightly, a bottle of Jim
Beam clutched in his hand. “What’re you doin’ in here?” he demanded. He
tipped the bottle and drained the last of the bourbon into his gaping mouth.
“Nothin’,” Wade answered. “Sleepin’.”
“You’re doin’ it again, ain’tcha?”
Wade shook his head, trying to clear out the
grogginess. “What? No. I was sleepin’. Honest.” He moved to scuttle off the
bed and out of the room, but Clifton was too quick for him. He seized him by
the shirt collar and slammed him facedown onto the bed. For a drunk, he was
surprisingly strong and agile.
“You’re gonna see how they do it, the fuckin’
faggots. You’re gonna get it like they get it.”
Wade felt his jeans being wrenched down, and terror
seized him. He was screaming, hoping his mother—or anyone—could hear him.
Clifton pinned him down and held him tight against the mattress. “Shut up,
faggot,” he whispered in Wade’s ear, and his breath was like acid. Sweat was
pouring down his face, dripping onto the bed. “Let’s see how you like it
now.” From the corner of his eye, Wade could see the lips of the upturned
bottle moving toward his bare buttocks.
With the last of his strength, Wade pushed himself
off the bed, flinging Clifton back across the room. The bottle hit the floor
and shattered. Clifton slammed into the wall, then slid down to the floor, his
eyes round and startled. Wade went for him. “You bastard!” His fist
connected with Clifton’s nose, and a sudden spray of blood erupted down the
man’s shirt. “You fucking
” Clifton curled into a ball as
Wade’s fists pummeled him.
There was a sudden gasping, choking sound.
Clifton’s face was twisted and red and wet, and he was crying
brought his foot back and kicked Clifton as hard as he could in the side.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Clifton kept repeating, his
voice broken and sobbing.
“Don’t you ever fuckin’ touch me again,” Wade spat
Wade never told anyone about the incident, not even
Joel. He was left feeling violated and ashamed, but he hoped that by fighting
back he had cured Clifton of his mean streak.
That lasted about two months. The hostility began
at first with a few smacks to the back of Wade’s head; soon it had escalated
back to point it had been before. Wade remembered the bottle incident, and was
tempted to fight Clifton again. But after Clifton punched him and broke his
jaw—this time for smoking, the self-righteous prick—Wade was too afraid of
him. He made the decision that he would escape from that hell as soon as he
got the chance, and when Marla came up pregnant he took the opportunity and
Marla’s parents let them move into the abandoned
trailer behind their house, and at first Wade was happy. Being away from Mama
and Clifton was almost as good as heaven. But after a few months he knew he
had made a mistake. Being married was simply another kind of hell. But
leaving Marla would have meant going back home, and he sure didn’t want that.
But gradually he realized there was one critical difference between living with
his stepfather and living with Marla: here, Wade was in control. Marla might
argue and disagree with him, but she didn’t fight back. Not anymore.
He knew she was not happy with him. No more than he
was happy with her. In fact, she
him sometimes; he could see it
in her eyes. And sometimes he hated her, and there was
hurting her. But he tried not to think of that. Besides, Marla was an adult;
no one was stopping her if she
wanted to leave.
Now, in the musky darkness of their bedroom, he
rolled over to her and put an arm around her waist, settling in to finally go
to sleep. Marla dozed on, unaware that a hand she had cowered from so many
times now lay gently and almost affectionately across her stomach.
Monday, July 9
Joel and Wade were working on a job at Mayor
Carver’s house in Marvin Heights, a gated subdivision out by the college, and
Joel was angry.
Not only had Wade refused to tell him anything about
where he had been all weekend, but he became absolutely livid when Joel told
him that Marla had called looking for him. Joel knew it was none of his
business where Wade had been, and in truth he didn’t care. But Wade had a
family, and he had responsibilities. And—
he had the obligation
to tell his wife what the hell he’d been up to all weekend. Joel only pushed
so far; Wade had his limits, and they were undeniably short. Reluctantly, Joel
tried to focus on his work, which at the moment was adding another cable outlet
in the mayor’s living room.
The room was huge, and it likely would have
swallowed Joel’s whole house. One entire wall was lined with shelves crammed
with books, and opposite that was a stone fireplace so massive that the mantle
was several inches above their heads; on the paneled wall above that was the
stuffed head of a large moose, its glass eyes peering down at them in a rather
condescending way. A monstrous grand piano sat beside a pair of French doors
that looked out over a regal patio and a large pool beyond. The furniture was
sparse and tailored, clustered into groups about the room, what Martha Stewart
would have undoubtedly called “conversation areas.” Joel was more accustomed
to conventional surroundings—rooms in which he felt like a colossal floundering
whale, afraid to move lest he scrape shelves and tables free of their
knick-knacks with his awkward, beefy limbs. The living rooms of old ladies
cluttered with dusty framed photographs resting on crocheted doilies or the
dens of families where so many toys littered the room that you couldn’t walk.
Here he felt small. Well, not small exactly, but maybe this was how a
normal-sized person felt in a normal-sized room.
Mrs. Carver, a large-boned woman with short blonde
hair and thick lips, darted in and out of the room nervously, as if she feared
they would take off with the family heirlooms. “I’ll be in the kitchen,” she
told them from the doorway. “If you need me.”
Wade finished drilling a hole into the floor and blew
the sawdust from it. “Go downstairs to the basement and find the service
entrance,” he told Joel. “Run a tap from the main cable over to here.”
Joel skulked across the great room toward the hall
where he had seen Mrs. Carver disappear. “Hello?” he called. The hallway
seemed endless, its walls lined with plaques and certificates, testimonies to
the mayor’s influence.
He stopped and stared at one.
appreciation of his years of dedicated service.
Hill Park Board
Joel wondered what the mayor could have done to
receive this plaque, other than show up at the meetings and approve the budget.
There were countless others. The Cedar Hill School
Chess Club. The Rotary Club. The Optimists Club. Mayor Carver was indeed a
There was a photograph of the mayor receiving some
type of medal on a blue ribbon from a balding, bespectacled goon Joel
recognized from TV as the governor. The mayor towered over him; he was a
robust man, tall and muscular beneath his suit, with a finger-combed mop of
salt-and-pepper hair and a neatly trimmed beard just starting to go gray. Joel
stared at him. He’d never seen him outside of the fuzzy photos in the
newspaper or waving distantly from a convertible in the Veterans Day parade.
He looked…odd. Handsome and smiling, yet the smile didn’t quite reach his
eyes. His eyes were soft and brown, but something about them seemed flat and
emotionless, almost glassy. Like the eyes of the moose in the other room.
Dead and cold.
“Can I help you?” Joel looked away from the picture
to see Mrs. Carver staring at him. She was twisting her diamond wedding band.
“I need to get to the basement,” he said.
She nodded and pointed to a plain door at the end of
the hall. “Light switch is on your left.”
Joel descended into the musty darkness, nearly
bashing his forehead against a beam before reaching the landing. The dim bare
bulbs hanging from the ceiling lit a pathway through piles of old furniture and
moldy cardboard boxes. He pulled the flashlight off his belt and shined it
into the dark corners, scaring up a few spiders, searching for the entrance of
the cable into the house.