ART BY JOHN DAVID BROWN
MUSIC BY JOSEPH SACHS
READ BY MIRACLE JONES
Abby said go ahead, hypnotize her, if I really knew how. I asked if she was sure. "You won't be in control. I could make you do anything I want, anything."
We'd been hanging out a couple months.
I was twenty-four. Abby was sixteen.
"Go ahead," she dared me, "if you can."
Uncle Roger really had taught me how to hypnotize someone with a pocket watch. He was a psychologist at a clinic for fucked-up kids, like kids who stabbed their dad in the neck with a fork or set fire to a neighbor's house. He was trying to get in good with me, a favor for my auntie, who he'd just married, cause she was worried I was going to get in more trouble, more than what I'd been in anyway, more like my dad, or my mom. Anyway, Roger's good at explaining things so they make sense. He said doctors don't hypnotize anymore. But supposedly you've just got to get someone to listen to one thing and focus on something else at the same time so the brain separates into two parts. While the one part's focused you work on the other. It was sort of like running misdirection on that game, Madden 2002. Guards pulled this way, ball went that.
I didn't have a pocket watch then because I didn't think it was cool to know the time. All I had were these Mardi Gras beads. There was this purple token on one end, this crazy plastic face wearing a crown, a jester. I don't know where I got them. I'd never been to New Orleans, never been out of Tucson, really.
I needed something to talk about so I started describing the old trailer park, the way the concrete got so hot in the summer and then how one day it would rain and the steam would rise off it. And the whole time I was talking I made Abby watch the jester go back and forth, back and forth. Pretty soon her blue eyes glazed over.
I waved my hand in front of her face, then acted like I was going to touch her.
She leaned forward to whisper, "It's okay, Adam."
Later, sitting in my car outside her mom's apartment, she was just staring off at the building, real quiet. I tried to kiss her a couple times but she wasn't into it. I thought maybe she was mad. I couldn't tell if we'd gone too far. Or not far enough. I guess I had doubts both ways. So I turned up the music. Asked why she was being so quiet.
"I think Cam's here," she said.
Cam was her mom's boyfriend. He was this skaggly, notorious motherfucker. There were rumors. I'd heard a vein popped on his forehead once he got so mad. I'd also heard he'd cut off part of some kid's ear with a knife. Kid showed up to buy a couple grams of coke and forgot his money, so slice. Apparently some people saw Cam do it, people who used to run with him. He had these crazy eyes that kind of danced. Even his friends didn't trust him. He was maybe thirty. Made a little money and some enemies selling stomped-on product and drove a convertible Firebird from the nineties. He creeped Abby out cause he sat around all the time watching TV with his shirt off, thumbing his crotch, never saying anything.
"You want me to go in there and show him what's up?" I asked. I had an arm around her and showed her my right fist, which even then had a couple scars. "You know I'll beat that punk ass down."
She giggled. "I just want to sit here a minute."
She flattened out my fist with her hand and put it on her shoulder. We sat there without saying anything until the minute changed over on my clock.
"Minute's up," I said. "What're we gonna do now?"
She didn't hear. She was looking in the window. You could tell the TV was on cause of the way the colors changed in the room. Her mom walked by wearing this pink tank top. She was about forty with bleached hair and these big fake tits. I knew she was stripping at Spanky's and a couple other places and called herself Classy something or other. This dude Junior once told me she'd done a bunch of movies in her twenties and thirties. "Nothing epic," he'd said, "but that bitch could swallow you whole."
"You sure you don't want to stay over?" I asked Abby. "I'll get you to school on time."
She leaned over and kissed me on my neck. I thought that was all. But then she got all up on me. Pressed those little tits against me, through our shirts. Started grinding her hips.
"So," she said, making that little bunny rabbit face she made sometimes.
"What'd you make me do when I was hypnotized?"
"We played checkers," I said like it was the opposite of what we'd done but which was more like the opposite of what I'd thought about doing but hadn't.
She leaned in real close. Looked hard in my eyes.
It was hot and everything, but that stare made me feel weird, too.
She poked me in the ribs. "Checkers."
"You know I don't keep score," I said, cause I realized she was just playing, "but, girl, I'd say it was you."
She giggled and climbed over into the passenger side and got her stuff together, her sweatshirt and book bag, and got out and went up to her mom's. I watched her walk all the way to the door. She was putting on a show. Check me out. Look how straight I can walk. Before she went inside, she turned and waved real small, like no one else was supposed to see but me. I waited outside to see if she'd walk past the window, maybe wave again, but she must have gone through the kitchen to avoid Cam. He stood up in the front room and kind of stretched his arms, like he was hot shit. He didn't have his shirt on and looked like that one guy in the movies, the one with the black eyes who's skinny everywhere but his gut.
I drove over to Marcus's place. Some people were over there playing Playstation, passing around a bong I didn't recognize, listening to Bob Marley. I didn't hate Bob Marley but I pretty much hated anyone who listened to him.
I sat down on the lawn chair by the TV.
"What's up, bee-atch?" Marcus yelled.
He was wearing his Rastafarian hat again.
"You look stupid when you wear that hat," I said.
Marcus turned and laughed to a girl I didn't recognize. She looked like she should get herself out of the rotation before she passed out. She was staring at the TV like the hockey game was scaring her. She had a pretty face and pinned her brown hair up with glittery little clips..
"You guys know this motherfucker is fucking a fifteen-year-old," Marcus said. "What's her name? Debby?"
"You know I'm a gentleman, motherfucker, and don't say one way or the other," I said, "but her name's Abby and she's almost seventeen and who's this anyway, your little sister?"
I looked at the girl. She smiled. Someone passed her the bong and she took a hit so big it made me want to cough.
"She's definitely not my sister," Marcus said, then looked at her like they had some kind of secret going. I knew he hadn't done anything with her. Marcus never fucked anyone pretty. Well, this girl Mandy we went to high school with. But that was like once a month when she stopped in to smoke all his weed.
The girl passed me the bong. I took a small hit and kept up the rotation. I held the smoke for a while and then blew it out toward her. She smiled. I figured she was someone's little sister, maybe someone here. She was wearing a lot of makeup and was probably about Abby's age, probably lived in the trailer park off Highland, by Marcus's sister.
"What's your name?" I asked.
She didn't answer me at first and I was like this girl's done, but then she said, "Jessica."
"How do you know these clowns, Jessica?"
"She's my sister's neighbor, motherfucker," Marcus said.
Mike the Tweaker giggled. I stared him down.
"What're you laughing at, tweaker?"
"You talk a lot of shit since you started seeing that shrink," Marcus said. "You know that?"
"You dumbshit," I said. "First off, he's my uncle. Second, I talk shit because this giggly motherfucker don't ever say shit except to giggle at whatever you say."
Jessica was looking at the floor. She looked bored so I thought shit, I can be a boy scout twice in one night.
"I'm getting away from this trifling shit," I said. "You want a ride, Jessica?"
She didn't answer. I shrugged and walked out, like nothing mattered.
Outside it kind of hit me: why the fuck did I do that? I didn't even know that girl. I figured those guys were in there laughing now.
But then when I was almost to my car the front door squeaked open. I looked back expecting to see Marcus showing me no love. But it was Jessica. She was coming down the steps. Putting on a hoodie.
Marcus came out the door behind her with his hands held up.
"What's up, girl? You come, smoke my weed, leave with this pendejo?"
"Marcus," I said, "why you always trying to pretend like you're Mexican?"
"Why you always trying to pretend like you're black? I'm just saying this bitch shouldn't come around after you give her encephalitis or some shit."
"Go fuck yourself, Marcus."
"Peace," he said, then went back inside.
I asked Jessica what she wanted to listen to. She said she didn't care, so I put on Jay-Z. We rolled around a while. She was too stoned to say much. I didn't feel like talking either, so I got a joint out of the ashtray. Sparked it. Didn't offer her any. She wasn't offended. I drove like that. Every once in a while said something funny.
"Those dudes just want to fuck you," I finally got around to. "That's all they want."
She looked out the window like the streetlights were something to look at.
"I'm just telling you because I've known Marcus a long time, since we were like eight and shit, and I love him like a brother, but...you know?"
"I know," she said. "Guys just want to get some."
"Maybe," I said, "but that's not the whole deal. Sometimes I think maybe that's not so bad, wanting to just fuck someone. How could that shit be bad, you know? It's a bond. But it's fucked up when dudes just want to stick it in anything that comes along when the girls are thinking it's all about them. How special they are. That shit's got to hurt. Think you got something special and then find out what you really got is a pussy."
"I know Abby," she said, like out of nowhere. "We've got Language Arts together."
I figured she was trying to put on the brakes.
I told myself, whatever, I don't need brakes here, I'm just cruising.
"You guys tight?" I asked.
"No," Jessica said. I could tell she was finally coming down a little. "I heard some girls say her mom does porn."
"Did. Anyway, I've heard that, too."
She was looking out the window. "That's cool."
"I don't know. My mom thinks doing it is, like, evil or something."
"Do you think it's evil?"
I looked to her, you know, to see if that meant what I thought it meant. She stared straight ahead. I figured I'd just learned a secret.
Back at my apartment, I put something on the stereo. I got out two Tecates in bottles. We sat on my couch. Everything was cool. She looked around at my stuff. I looked at hers. And I got to thinking like maybe I was doing all right. Today was a good day, you know? I had Abby at home thinking about me. This Jessica girl was right here with her hand on her knee. And tomorrow or the next day me and Marcus were supposed to throw in on five whole pounds of Mexican Redhair, a scale, and a shitload of baggies. Everything was looking up. This was the shit uncle Roger had talked about.
He was just doing my aunt a favor, and he was always corny as hell–I told him that–but we'd had some good talks about this right here. Getting couldn't even remember his voice. It was like nothing had ever happened, nothing before right now. Like everything your ducks in a row, was how he'd have said it.
The way I saw it my ducks were lined the fuck up.
That's actually what I was thinking when this girl started kissing me.
She leaned back on the couch and smiled up. Her hand was on her stomach and I leaned in and kissed her knuckles. Then put my hand up her shirt. My heart was beating like a freight train. She wasn't wearing a bra and oh man.
I'll just say it. I'm not a big tit guy. I'd told Uncle Roger that and, you know, he'd asked what I was then. I told him who knows? I asked if he wanted me to say they reminded me of my mom's fat tits or something, and he said he asked questions just so I'd think about things and, anyway, not to get all defensive. But the thing is I knew the answer. I didn't tell Roger cause I figured he'd tell me again to start writing poetry or some lame ass bullshit like that.
But I've thought about this a lot since then.
And I liked tits like Jessica's and Abby's cause they didn't seem like some kind of accident.
Jessica was kissing my neck and a couple seconds later she reached down and got my belt and tried to get it undone. "But you got to go slow," she said. "I don't want it to hurt."
We got our clothes off and she went down on me and everything was going good until I laid her back on the couch and asked her if she was sure it was okay and she said yeah and I was about to stick it in.
But then, you know.
"What's wrong?" she asked.
"Nothing," I said. "I'm just teasing you a little, girl."
She smiled and rolled her head back and waited for it with her eyes closed, breathing with her mouth open just a little and I kept bumping it against her but nothing was happening. I wanted to wait, to save something for tomorrow, to keep her thinking about me and what I had to give her. That was all. No, that wasn't all. That's just what I was thinking about saying. I didn't know what was going on. Things should have been going smooth. I was still all worked up from earlier with Abby because we hadn't really done anything. I tried to think and not to think. Then I thought maybe if I just got this girl to go down on me again everything would be okay. So I sat back and kind of touched her arm toward me.
"Are you okay, Adam? Your face is, like, really white."
"I'm fine, baby," I said, "but this is all new to you. We can keep this preliminary shit going all night."
"I don't care," she said, and I believed her. "I just have to be home before my dad gets home from work."
She tried to help me along, but a few seconds later she just sat back and covered herself with her arms. I could tell her feelings were hurt. I leaned forward and kissed her and she kissed me back but I could tell she didn't want to. I was rubbing the Mardi Gras token in my sweatshirt pocket. I hadn't noticed that. But I was. And I thought how good it'd be if I could just hypnotize her. Make her forget and myself while I was at it.
We put the rest of our clothes back on without saying anything. I thought to lie, to say I'd just got laid by Abby. Or at least ask her not to tell anyone. I was just about to say one of those things or both of those things when the phone rang.
It was Abby. She was crying.
I figured Marcus had called and told her about Jessica just to get back at me.
"What's up, baby?" I asked, nice as I could.
She was crying too hard for me to make out what she was saying.
"You got to stop crying and tell me what's up," I said.
"Cam," she cried. "Cam. He–he–"
That's all it took for me to get the picture.
"What'd he do?"
It took her like ten minutes to get it out. She'd woken up to find Cam sitting on the floor next to her bed with one hand under the covers. When she screamed her mom came in but Cam had already jumped up and was acting like he'd just run in to see what was up, too. Abby told her mom and her mom tried to scratch his eyes out and he threw her face-first into Abby's dresser mirror so it cut her all up and then he left the house threatening like he was going to come back to kill them both.
"Call the police," I said. "He's fucking crazy."
"Mom won't let me."
"Please don't yell at me," she cried. "Please don't."
"I'm coming over," I said. "Lock the doors and windows."
We hung up and I looked to Jessica. Her eyes were wide.
"What is it?" she asked.
I explained as I pulled my shoes on. I was scared, but felt lucky in a way, too. None of it seemed real yet. None of it.
"Oh my god," she said. "You're really going over there?"
"Yeah, I'm going over there," I said. "Of course I'm going the fuck over there."
"Can you take me home first? My dad's going to be home soon."
"No time," I said.
"I have to be home," she said. She was shaking. "He'll be so pissed."
She followed me as I went to the bedroom.
"You don't understand," she was saying. "Last time he took my iPod."
"That's kid shit," I said, and it felt good to say it when I was opening my dresser and getting out my gun. It was an old piece of shit .9mm I got for forty bucks. Didn't even know then whether it would shoot straight. Guys like Cam don't fuck around, I told myself. They might think about shit later in jail but when they're mad they don't fuck around.
I made Jessica sit in the back seat. She told me we were passing by her neighborhood but I didn't listen. I don't know why. I thought about what I would do. What I could do anyway. It kept running through my head, Cam cutting that dude's ear off.
I turned up the stereo so I couldn't hear anything. I played 99 Problems and every time Jay-Z said I have 99 problems but a bitch ain't one, I thought about Cam. I told myself that was a bitch name. What was it short for? Cameron? It made him seem more trifling. But even then I knew names don't mean shit.
Next thing I knew I was dialing my uncle's number. I knew he'd be in bed. It was like 1:30 AM on a Wednesday. Jessica asked who I was calling, if maybe they couldn't come get her? I could barely hear her.
Finally Roger picked up. "Hello?"
"Uncle," I said. "It's me. I'm sorry it's late, but–"
"Turn down the music, Adam," he said, "so I can hear you."
"Sorry," I said, and turned it down.
"No problem," he said. "Go ahead: shoot."
Uncle Roger talked like a tool but he was a smart dude. And he always used to tell me I could do anything I wanted even if my life was crazy right then. He knew because his life had been screwed up, too, back in the day. He'd been to prison twice. Just for possession, but still. He'd gotten through it. He was a doctor or whatever. I guess him and auntie wanted me to realize I could do shit like that, too. At least that's what they wanted me to believe. I don't even know how they knew shit was crazy for me right then, cause I was just then starting to notice.
"Does shit get, you know, easier?" I asked.
"It just gets different," he said. "Anyway, that's the kind of question to save till you're maybe thirty."
"Ask if he can pick me up," Jessica said.
"I'm not far off from thirty," I said.
"Yeah, you are," Roger laughed. "Twenty-four to thirty–those are good, long years."
"Mom and Dad had three kids and their own trailer by the time they were my age."
"Yes, but they got divorced, and they hate each other. And where are they?"
I knew he was right. Dad was in prison. Mom was I don't know where. But there wasn't really anything to do about that. I wasn't really looking for advice anyway. Truth is, I just wanted to talk to someone who wouldn't call me motherfucker. That was it. If I was going toe-to-toe with Cam then I at least wanted to know everyone in my life wasn't a total fuck-up. Of course that made me feel more like a fuck-up.
I mean, I didn't want to tell Uncle Roger I had a girlfriend. If I did, he'd start asking questions. And I'd have to tell him she was in high school. And I didn't like how that would sound to him, I guess.
"What's going on?" he asked.
"Oh, I've just got to take care of some shit," I said.
"Nothing you couldn't tell me about, I hope."
"Nah," I said. "Regular type life shit. Thanks for not hanging up."
"I wouldn't hang up on you."
The lights were all on at Abby's place. I couldn't see anyone through the front window, but I figured they were staying away from it just in case. I drove past. Did a U-turn. Parked across the street. Waited a minute. Waited two minutes.
"Stay in the car," I finally said to Jessica. "And keep down."
When I shut the door I heard her say, "Hurry."
I went to the door and knocked.
"It's me," I said to the spy hole.
A couple seconds later Abby opened the door and gave me a big hug. Her eyes were red and puffy.
"I know," she said, like she knew what I was thinking. "I look like shit."
"No you don't," I said. "You just look scared."
I went inside and shut the door behind me, locked it.
"Where's your mom?" I asked.
"In her bedroom."
"Why doesn't she want to call the cops? She have a warrant or something?"
"No," Abby said, starting to cry again. "She said he loves her."
I gave her a hug.
"Stay away from the windows," I said. "I'm going to talk some sense to your mom."
"Don't," she said.
I thought she just meant because she didn't want me to leave.
"I'm just going to talk to her, baby. It's okay. I'll be right out."
Abby's mom was just sitting on the foot of her bed looking in a magazine like nothing had happened. She glanced up. There was a big cut across her forehead and a small one.
"We got to talk."
She looked into the hall. "Close the door."
I closed the door. She looked around like she was trying to find a place for me to sit but there weren't any chairs, just a piles of shirts and pants and skirts and panties and big neon bras and shit, so she patted the bed next to her. I told her no thanks, I could stand. So she stood. Then she walked slow over to the mirror on the dresser next to me, looked at herself, touched her finger to the cut.
"This ain't pretty," she sighed.
"Everything about this is totally fucked," I said.
She looked at herself for a few more seconds in the mirror, then turned around and looked at me. It was like she was surprised to see me standing there, but maybe happy too. She was on something. Probably Valium.
"You've got everyone's business all figured out," she said like we'd known each other forever, even though we'd never officially talked.,
"I don't know about that, but–"
"I'm glad you came to protect us," she said, but not like she meant it.
She scratched her tit through her little tank-top. She wasn't wearing a bra. Big hard fake tits. Her nipples were hard. Not an accident, but an accident anyway, you know. I believed she'd done porn. She looked like she'd been fucked by every mean motherfucker between California and Tucson. And the way she was standing there looking at me. Her eyes were like focused on something on the other side of me. Like she thought a camera was rolling.
"We need to call the cops," I said.
"What do we want them for?" she asked. She came close to me, and looked at my chest and kind of straightened my shirt. "I think we're doing all right, don't you?"
I wouldn't even have needed the jester with her. If I'd said to, she would have put her hair in pigtails. Rubbed a lollipop all over and stuck it up in herself. But I'd never really seen a woman like that before. She wasn't looking at me like she wanted me to fuck her. It was more like she was begging me not to hit her. It was like she was pulling something out of me, too. It sounds crazy but I could feel her pulling something out of me.
I mean, cause I wanted to hit her. I'd never wanted to hit someone so bad.
"I love Abby," I said just like that. It surprised me and for some reason I said it again. Felt it a little bit, too, this quick warmness.
"That's sweet," she said. "You seen her little titties?"
"What the fuck?"
"Do they taste as good as these?" she asked, then slid a strap down her shoulder. She had this look on her face like I was breaking her wrist. She kind of leaned back, tilted her chin up in the air, fell back on the bed. You'd think I was the one forcing her down. She scissored her legs, and giggled.
I told her she was fucking crazy.
She looked right in my eyes and whined, "Abby, Abby baby."
A couple seconds later Abby opened the door a crack, peeked in.
"Abby baby," her mom said, staring right through me, "you be careful with this boyfriend here. You watch this boyfriend real close. He's got the same look in his eyes as your daddy."
Abby was looking at my eyes, then, trying to see something inside me. And it was worse, cause I think she was actually seeing it. I almost said sorry.
But then a sound up front made us all stop moving and just listen.
It was up in the living room, the door pushing against the deadbolt.
It shook like that and got harder for a second. Then it stopped.
Abby kind of squealed and shut the bedroom door, backed up against me. Put her ass right there against me, right there like that's how I was supposed to protect her, by being inside her. I reached back and felt for that shitty little .9mm.. The grip was cold.
I flipped off the lights just in case he was going around. I didn't want him to creep around the house, look in the window, see us in the bedroom looking the other way. I imagined those crazy eyes of his, black, dancing, some crazy plastic grin on his face.
The bed squeaked. Abby's mom whispered something in the dark so quiet I couldn't make it out. Abby's mouth was pressed against my arm now. I could feel her lips on my skin but I couldn't feel her breathing. That worried me more than anything. It was like she was already dead. Either that or I was already dead for not being able to feel it.
I wondered what Roger would say but already couldn't even remember his voice. It was like nothing had ever happened, nothing before right now. Like everything before was just a dream. A little light was barely coming in under the bedroom door, just this yellow little sliver. I could just barely make things out because of it, the way everything bled together in the dark. None of it had any shape anymore. Abby, her mom, the room, the dresser, the door, this moment, everything–all of it was just bleeding together.
I closed my eyes, and that line of light under the door was tattooed white now–not yellow but totally white–on the inside of my eyelids. No, brighter than white. Like staring at the sun too long. The shapes of all those dark things were trying to hide in each other. But even then I knew you make up for what you don't have with what you do have. So I strained the outer part of me to hear. I pulled up everything I had, you know, from my toes, the ends of my fingers, my gut, all this shit I'd been thinking and feeling, shit I didn't even know I'd been thinking and feeling but must have been. It was all right there within touching distance. It was clear and bright and went on pretty much forever, like a star.
I've told this story a hundred times, a thousand times. Every motherfucker wants to hear what happened next, with the gun, Cam, Abby, Jessica, the jester, everything. And every motherfucker wants to know if that's how I lost my eye. No one gives a shit about the star. No one wants to hear that was the last chance I ever had to just reach out and grab hold of something real.
Because a second later we heard the screen pop, and fingers pressing glass.
Shane Castle's fiction has recently appeared online (McSweeney's Internet Tendency, Electric Literature, Fiction at Work) and two stories are upcoming on Annalemma's website and in The Humanist.