Eye and Guy
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Summer/Fall 2003

From the Editor
Thom Didato

Richard Bausch

Jonathan Lethem

An excerpt from Project X
fiction by Jim Shepard

fiction by Liam Callanan

"Blood-Red Roses"
fiction by Leslie Blanco

"If You're Not a Bartender"
fiction by John Rubins

poetry by Jen Benka

poetry by Tom Horacek

poetry by Sadiq Bey

"Moral Improvement"
"Hunger's Story"
poetry by Adam Clay

artwork by Pamela Harris



Jim Shepard is the author of the forthcoming novel, Project X (Knopf, 2004) and story collection, Love and Hydrogen (Vintage, 2004).

Shepard's other works include:

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© Knopf


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© Knopf

Batting Against Castro: Stories,

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© Harcourt

Kiss of the Wolf, as well as Flights, Paper Doll, and Fights Out in the Reptile House.

He teaches at Williams College and in the Warren Wilson MFA program, and lives in Williamstown with his wife, two sons, and tiny tiny daughter.

Project X
An excerpt


My mom sits next to me on the bed and helps with the ice. When the facecloth gets warm I pass it over and she dunks it in the bowl and wrings it out and hands it back. My lower lip's swollen and one eye's half-squinty. I look like Popeye throwing a tantrum.

"What's the matter with you?" she says in a soft voice. Like everybody else, she really wants to know. "Why can't you get along with the boys in your class?"

"They're weren't in my class," I tell her. It's hard for her to hear through the facecloth.

"Is his nose broken?" Gus wants to know from the other side of the door. He's four and his favorite video's The Making of Jaws documentary.

"He's fine, Gus," my mom goes. "He just wants some time to himself."

"Can I see?" Gus asks.

"Then it wouldn't be time to himself," my mom tells him.

"You're in there," Gus goes.

"Why do you think you're always picking fights?" she asks me quietly.

"Are there guts?" Gus asks.

"No guts," my mom goes. "Are you watching the movie? 'Cause if you're not watching the movie I'll turn it off."

"I'm watchin' it," Gus tells her.

He's been on a Predator kick for a few weeks now. Flake thinks it's a scream. Flake brings him magazines like Fangoria and Cinefantastique with gross pictures of how they do the gore. He shows them to Gus when my mom isn't around. When Gus tells her about the gushy pictures Flake shows him, she says, "That's nice."

"I don't pick fights," I tell her.

"You just show up, and people hit you, right?" she asks.

I shrug. My eyes start to tear up because I'm feeling sorry for myself.

"So did you know any of these kids? They weren't in your grade?" she says.

"Ninth graders hate us," I tell her.

"Why?" she asks.

"Well, eighth graders hate us too," I go.

Gus opens the door and comes in and closes it behind him. "Can I come in?" he goes. He gets on the bed and lies on his side and only looks at me a little bit. It's something great he wants to save and not do all at once.

My dad comes home. We all just look at each other while he troops around downstairs. Then he comes up.

"What's this, a meeting?" he asks at the door.

"You don't look too surprised," I go. Meaning about my face.

"I'm not," he goes. He wears a shirt and tie and Levis to class. He gets the Levis at the Army-Navy store and spends like seventy-five dollars on the ties. "What happened to you?" he says.

"He was all bloody," Gus tells him.

"He got into a fight," my mom goes. She sounds like she's been carrying a big rock up a hill for a hundred years.

"His shirt was all bloody," Gus tells him.

"Some kids," I go.

He turns into his room, shaking his head. I hear the hangers in the closet.

"Is he all right?" he calls to my mom.

"He seems to be," she calls back.

"Was the Nightrider involved?" he wants to know.

He calls Flake the Nightrider because Flake's always wanting to go out when I'm supposed to be in for the night. One time I got caught climbing off the porch roof at three in the morning. I slipped and landed on our recycling bin for tin cans. Flake said we would've gotten caught by deaf people.

"Apparently they had a disagreement with most of the soccer team," my mom tells him.

"High school kids?" he says.

"JV," I go. He's still in his room so I don't see if he has any reaction.

"I don't know what to do," my mom says, I guess to him. "Maybe another school."

"I'm not going to private school," I tell her. I got showed around one last year after I had so much trouble in sixth grade. They probably also figured it'd get me away from Flake. The kid assigned to be my special friend for the day let me sit on a meringue square somebody'd put on my seat in one of the classes. When I got home I put the flyer down the disposal and turned the disposal on. "So how'd it go?" my mom asked, when she got home.

Gus starts jumping on the bed. He has this game where he jumps on the bed and I cut his legs out from under him with my forearm.

I tell him to stop it. I have a big pillow under my tailbone but the jumping doesn't help.

"Not now, honey," my mom says. "Your brother doesn't feel good."

"Is he hurt?" Gus asks, jumping.

"You're gonna be hurt, if you don't get down," my dad calls from the other room. "And are you watching that movie or am I going to turn it off?"

Flake looks worse than I do.

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"Look at you," I go when he comes over after supper.

"I'm gonna heal," he says. "You're always gonna look like that."

His dad cut his hair shorter so now his ears stick out even more. Plus he's got these cartoon eyebrows.

The only thing that cheers us up besides somebody getting hurt is mosh volleyball. It's the only sport we play. Flake doesn't like to call it a sport. We invented it ourselves. One of us serves off the roof of the garage and the other has to put it back up onto the roof without letting it hit the ground. The roof edge is low so you can sky and pin the thing to the top and then it just rolls off and is pretty much unreturnable. But what's great is, to slam it like that you have to throw yourself into the garage wall. The paint's all covered with scuff marks and our legs are all covered with bruises. My dad hates the game because it knocks stuff off the walls inside. Once we knocked the ladder onto his car.

You also can go up and block somebody's slam, which means both of you are hitting the wall at the same spot. On some serves, when the return bounces high, you can get way back and get a running start.

We go at it until it gets dark. I jam a finger and Flake gets grit from the roof shingles in his eye. I bang the shit out of my tailbone again and almost have to stop. I slam three in a row and he starts leading with his knees when he goes up. He nails me in the balls and we have to take a break while I recover. I cut his legs out from under him on a block. "Asshole," he goes. "Fuckwad," I go back. "You are such an asshole," he goes. "You are such a fuckwad," I go back.

He wins 21-17. When we're heading in, the neighbor on that side of our yard calls from his kitchen window, "I'm sorry to see that game end."

A couple hours later on the way home Flake takes a dump on the guy's picnic table. He tells me about it in school the next day.

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"How about this?" he goes. We're hanging around the schoolyard. Both our buses got there early and we're not in a hurry to get inside. There's a jungle gym out in the middle of the field surrounded by a little fence because some kid almost got killed on it. "How about you went down the street with like an armored personnel carrier and blew in every other front door? Imagine how everybody'd freak trying to figure out what the deal was?"

"I don't think I wanna go to gym anymore," I tell him. "Think I could pretend to have parasites or something?"

We're pitching little rocks at each other's feet. We're pretty close to each other but we haven't hit anything yet.

"Bethany what's her name is like everywhere lately, you notice that?" he goes.

"I never see her," I go.

"You never see her," he goes.

The first bell rings. They call it the first bell but it's a buzzer. "We better get in," I tell him.

He gives me that look. "You didn't see her. You didn't see her hanging out with Fischetti and those guys near the thing?"

"Yeah, I saw her there," I go.

"You saw her there," he goes.

"What do you, like her?" I ask.

He's the one who brought it up.

"Suck my dog's chew toy, how's that?" he goes.

"Your mother's still busy with it," I tell him.

He doesn't answer for a minute. We're kind of hurrying because it's a long hallway. In big letters along the ceiling it says THE WALL OF RECOGNITION. There are all these framed photos of old teachers.

"Forgot my fucking homework," he says to himself.

"God damn it," he goes when we're right outside his door.

"Bites," I go.

The second bell rings.

"Have a good day," I tell him. Then I catch my toe on the stair and almost kill myself. He leans his shoulder into the door to his room. "What're you, my mother?" he goes.

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When I was little, one of the things I really loved was boating. Flake hadn't moved to town yet but I really liked going with my parents. We had this six or eight foot sailboat that was seriously wide and dumpy, almost as wide as it was long. From the back it looked like a dog dish with a mast. My dad called it The Spirit Breaker and when I asked him why he said it was a private joke. Every weekend in the summer we'd take it to the reservoir and toot around on it, all three of us jammed in. When you turned the rudder you hit somebody. When you were beaching and pulled out the centerboard, the other person in the front had to lean back.

One time we gave these other kids in a Sunfish a tow. They broke some hardware at the top of their mast so they were stuck over by the marshes, just drifting around and arguing. They didn't want to get out in the muck and walk the thing all the way around. My mom brought us about in a snappy little turn and my dad asked if they wanted a tow. There was a good wind. I remember being surprised he asked and surprised how happy it made me. What did I care? We had like eight hundred feet of rope in the bottom of the boat sloshing around in the water, for tying up to the dock. I got to be the guy who threw the rope when my mom brought us around again. And I held it while we pulled them along until my dad tied our end to the cleat in back. We got going pretty good. I remember the kid in front's face as we bounced through some waves the powerboats had left. He was older than I was but I still thought, Good for you, kid, like I was his dad. "That was really great," I remember telling my parents on the drive home. "It really was," I remember my mom agreeing.

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"Mr. Pengue came by today," my mom goes.

"Okay," I go.

"He was surprisingly upset," my mom says.

We're all waiting for the pizza to heat up and it's taking forever.

"Do you have it on defrost?" my dad asks. He's sitting at the table with his hands together on his plate.

My mom poses alongside the control panel like she's demonstrating it.

Gus is on his stomach under my chair with his hands around my ankle. He's squeezing and making hissing noises. One of his recent things is playing boa. My mom pops the door and checks the pizza. It's a pile of four or five pieces so she checks the middle. She thwaps the door shut again and loads in another thirty seconds. The pizza's two days old, so that may have something to do with it.

"Is there some other way to check it besides putting your thumb in it?" my dad asks.

"Not that I know of," she says.

Gus is still squeezing. "I can't breathe, I can't breathe," I tell him. He laughs. There's a tug when he bites my pant leg.

"So that was some story you told about Mr. Pengue," my dad says to my mom.

The guy wants us to pronounce it "Pen-gway," but we say it like it's spelled. He's not a big favorite of ours.

"Yeah, so he came by," my mom goes. "Said he found the most interesting thing on his picnic table."

The bell dings on the microwave and when she looks at me instead of doing something about it, I open it myself and pull out the pizza.

She's got a sitcom mom look on, hand on her hip.

"It's ready," I go. Gus lets loose of my ankle and climbs out from under the chair. He hits his head on the table.

"You don't know anything about this?" she goes.

"I'm not an expert on pizza," I tell her.

"You know that's not what I mean," she says.

"Get me a beer?" my dad asks.

I stick the dish with the pizza on the table and go the fridge.

"Listen to him sigh," he goes. "All he does is work to serve us." When I give him his beer and Gus his juice, he says, "So what's your mother talking about?"

My mom goes, "Tell your father what Mr. Pengue found on his picnic table."

"Oh, for Christ's sake," my dad says. "You tell me."

"I don't know what anybody found on their picnic table," I say.

"You don't," my mom goes.

"Oh my God," my dad goes.

"I want him to say it," my mom explains.

"A severed head," I go. "A dying weasel. Four tickets to the Super Bowl."

"A pile of human - poop," she finally says.

My dad laughs.

"Encourage him," my mom goes.

"What do you, think I did it?" I go.

"You or your friend," she says.

"Because I didn't do anything," I go.

"Did you or did you not have some words with Mr. Pengue when you were playing out there?" she asks.

"We didn't have words with anybody," I go. Meanwhile the pizza's cold again.

"I don't need you all sullen. I'm asking you a question, is all," she says.

"It's cold again," my dad goes, dropping the pizza back onto the dish we warmed it up in, like that's the perfect end of a perfect day.

My mom stands up. She wasn't annoyed before but she's getting there. "Give me your pizza, hon," she says to Gus. "I'll warm it up."

"It's warm," he says. He's still holding his head where he hit it.

"No it isn't." She puts her finger in it. "See?"

"There she goes again with the finger," my dad says.

"It's warm," Gus says. His other hand's got his sippy cup in his mouth and he's talking around it.

"No it isn't," she says.

"I want noodles," he says.

"We're not having noodles," she says. "We're having pizza."

"Pizza?" he says.

"Pizza," she says. "This. Right here. With the cheese and the sauce." She takes the dish over and slides it into the microwave. There's a big clatter. She cranks the thing.

"I think we're gonna have soup when that's finished," my dad says to me. She looks at him like if she had a fork she'd pin his hand to the table. Gus is watching us, still sipping away.

"You take a dump on Pengue's table?" my dad asks. He doesn't seem amused.

"No," I go.

"Your friend the Nightrider?"

"No," I go.

"Don't lie," my mom says.

"He may have," I go.

Gus' cup makes little noises.

"What do you want from me?" I finally go.

"Relax," my dad says, and Gus starts to cry.

"Stop it," my mom tells me. "What's the matter with you?"

My head feels like the main parts of it are blowing in different directions.

Gus wipes his eyes with the side of his sippy cup. He can stop crying like on a dime.

They're both just looking at me, because that's how it is: everything's my fault. If anything goes wrong anywhere I'm to blame. Keep that in mind. My dad's giving me his I-may-be-a-cool-dad-but-that-doesn't-mean-I'm-a-pushover face. My mom's giving me her I-try-to-understand-can't-you-meet-me-halfway face. I have to book. I have to get out of there. I have to get out of my chair and up the stairs at a high rate of speed. At least I don't break anything on the way out. "Come back here," my dad yells.

"What's the matter with him?" I hear my mom ask again, scared. I slip taking the turn in the upstairs hallway and end up in my room on my hands and knees.

"He doesn't even like music," I hear her say, after a minute. "What kid his age doesn't like music?"

Gus says something. I get off my hands and knees.

"He's not mad," my dad tells him.

"Do you know anybody his age who doesn't like music?" my mom asks.

I can't hear what he answers.

I shut the door and get in bed with my clothes on. Now I'm sweating. I'm sweating through my pants. My body's all haywire. I pull the covers over my head. It's daylight out and I've got the covers over my head. What is wrong with me?

"You're fucked up," Flake says when I ask him. "You're fucked in the head. You're never gonna be normal."

"I'd settle for paranormal," I go.

He laughs a little. "You think it's a joking matter," he goes.

We're in his room, the next day after school. His room's a box on the second floor. His dad let him paint one wall black, but only one. He's got a sticker on the window of a cartoon duck with no head and magic marker blood gushing out of the neck. He's got something from his Great Speeches of the Twentieth Century boxed set going. It's the only thing we play.

"Put on the one with the guy who's always talking about the Reds," I tell him.

"I will if you tell me the guy's name," he says.

I throw his dresser knob at him. His furniture's always falling apart. There's a bottom desk drawer he hasn't opened in a year and a half. I didn't really wing the knob. "Ask Bethany," I go.

"You're not interested in anything constructive," he tells me. "You just sit around and piss your time away."

"You don't give a shit about anything," I tell him back. "You don't have the slightest regard for private property."

We're doing our parents.

"You shit in your nest," he goes. "And then the mess is supposed to be our problem."

We laugh. Sometimes he makes us both laugh.

"They're so worried about us but they do whatever they want," I go.

"I'm tired of talking about them," he goes.

"So let's talk about Bethany," I go.

"You are such a dildo," he goes. He says it like it surprises him every time.

"Let's talk about extracurriculars," I go. "So: you running for Student Government?" I go.

He laughs a little. He lies back and looks at the ceiling. There are marks up there from his throwing something. He bends his fingers until there are cracking noises and I can't look anymore. "So I had this idea," he goes.

Outside there's a banging noise. His dad's beating on something. He's a mediator for married couples who want to split up and a part-time hockey coach at the high school. He's always building something in his garage workshop and then getting pissed off when it comes out wrong.

Flake's pinching his eyelid like he found something strange there. He's still lying on his back but seems like he lost interest in what he was going to say. "Know how in cartoons," he finally says, "the coyote or whoever can run out over a cliff and hang there a second and realize what's going on before he falls?"

"Yeah?" I go when he doesn't say anything else.

"That's not that funny," he goes. "That can really happen."

We both think about that while his dad bangs away outside. There's the noise of tools being thrown onto the driveway outside the garage.

"So what's Grant up to?" I ask him. I call his dad by his first name and for some reason this always pisses him off.

This time it doesn't work.

"I feel like jerking off," he says, like it's like going away to a beautiful island.

"I'm not stopping you," I tell him. He makes a face.

"God damn it," his dad says outside. There's one more bang and a ringing sound.

"Whoops," Flake goes. "My hands smell like something," he goes. "Do your hands smell like anything?"

"So what was your idea?" I finally ask.

"I lifted some shit from Pen-gway's garage when I took that dump on his picnic table," he goes.

"Nice move, by the way, with the table," I complain.

"Why? You get in trouble?" He sounds interested.

"'Course I got in trouble," I tell him. "What'd you think?" But it doesn't really bother me, and he knows it.

"I got this bug powder," he goes. "Roten-something. Supposed to be like super-toxic."

"So now I'm gonna get shit for that," I go.

"You're not gonna get shit for anything, Mr. Fearless," he goes. "I took like a pound from a twenty pound bag."

"What'd you carry it in?" I go.

"What do you give a shit?" he goes. "What're you, an environmentalist?"

"You'll probably get sick now," I go.

"That's right. I'll get sick now. Weenie," he says. "You want to hear this or not?"

"I want to hear this," I tell him.

"Roddy, get down here," his dad yells from the garage.

"What do you want?" Flake calls back. There's no answer.

"Roddy," his dad finally yells.

"What do you want?" Flake yells back.

"I want you to get down here," his dad yells.

Flake gets off the bed and stomps downstairs. I can't hear what they're arguing about once he gets to the garage.

I think about how there's always somebody worse off than you are. A movie about a guy who's a brain in a jar: that guy's going, Man, those guys who can't move their legs, they got it made.

Flake comes stomping back upstairs.

"What'd your father want?" his mother calls from somewhere in the house.

"He wanted to put his dick inside me," he says, hauling himself up the banister.

"What?" his mom calls.

"He wanted to know where one of his tools was," he calls in a louder voice.

"You tell him?" his mom asks.

"I told him you had it," he says.

"What?" his mom says.

"I told him you had it," he yells.

"I don't have it," she says.

"I'm kidding," he says.

"What?" she says.

He shuts the door. "I'm here all alone," he goes. "It's like I'm living alone."

"So what's Grant building?" I ask him.

He ignores me.

"So what's your idea?" I go.

His idea is that we take this Roten-stuff and mix it with water and put it into the hot-air vents so it spreads around in the morning during homeroom.

"You want to be like those kids at that school?" I go. "In Colorado?"

"No," he says. "They were fuck-ups. I don't wanna be like anybody."

"How do we get it into the vents?" I go.

"I been doing some exploring in the basement down there," he goes.

"And how do we keep from getting sick?" I go.

We do it the day before, it turns out. We mix the stuff up in like a big saucepan and park that in the right spot and when the furnace kicks on early the next morning, bingo.

"We have to buy a saucepan, so it can't be traced," he goes.

"Think people would really get sick?" I ask him.

Turns out he's more psyched about when they find the saucepan and everybody freaks. He's like, "The FBI, everybody, shit, the Navy Seals, everybody'll be crawling all over this place."

"People'll be like, 'Is this home-grown, or international?'" I go.

"Finally something'll happen in this fucking town," he goes. It's like he always says: natural disasters mean days off.

"Where is the stuff?" I go.

I put it in the roof of Behan's doghouse," he goes.

"God. Suppose the dog like eats it or something?" I go, before I can stop myself.

"Gosh, I hope that doesn't happen," he goes. Behan's the German shepherd next door. He's on a chain and is always barking and jumping at Flake like he wants to tear his throat out. Flake gets in trouble for doing things like having picnics right outside the dog's reach.

"Is that the way it works?" I go. "You put it in water and it fizzes?"

"Yeah. It's Alka-Seltzer," he says.

"We have to know if it's gonna work," I tell him. He rolls his eyes like there's someone else in the room.

"I read the directions on the bag," he goes.

He takes out a few pieces of paper from his desk and starts sketching, like I went home. From the chair I can see an upside-down pot with curvy fumes coming off it and a number below: 200 degrees. He's not a very good artist.

"We have to get rid of stuff like that, too," I go. "That's just the kind of stuff somebody'll find."

He adds a long pipe going up to a big square of a room. He adds a few more pipes. He folds the paper up, holds it up to show me, and then sticks it in my knapsack.

"That's gonna fall out when I take my books out, you know," I tell him.

On the next piece of paper he draws a stick figure inside a box with bars on it. The stick figure has its hands on the bars. He gives it a big nose and glasses.

"It looks like me, except it has no dick, so it must be you," I go.

Over its head he draws a big circle and then makes the circle a smiley face. He draws a word balloon next to it, and writes HI, FLAKE. WILL YOU ANSWER ALL MY QUESTIONS? inside. Then he takes the pencil in his fist and punches the point through the face over and over again.

"So when you wanna do it?" I go.

"The heat went on yesterday," he reminds me. It's true: in the morning it was cold, and you could smell the radiators in home room.

"I wish you could direct it at like specific rooms," I tell him.

He thinks about how cool that would be.

"This is just Step 1," he finally goes.

"Not even," I go.

"Do you have homework?" his mother calls from downstairs.

"I'm working on it," he calls back.

"With your friend in the room?" she wants to know.

"He's helping me," Flake explains.

"Is that kosher?" she asks.

Flake looks stumped. "I don't know," he finally calls. "What's 'kosher'?"

"Is that okay?" his mom calls.

"It's a group project," Flake calls.

"Why are we always shouting?" his mom calls. "Come to the top of the stairs." He hauls himself off the bed, gritting his teeth. "I'm gonna use the stuff here," he says to himself. "Swear to God."

"What?" he says when he gets out in the hall.

"Don't yell at me like that," his mom warns him.

He bends over backwards, holding on to the walls, and then straightens up again.

"Can I help you?" he says, completely nice.

She lowers her voice. "Are you jerking me around again about this homework?"

"I am totally not jerking you around about it," he goes.

"Don't use that word," she tells him.

"You just used it," he goes.

It's quiet. I'm still in the chair, looking at the black wall over his bed. He doesn't have a single thing stuck up besides the headless duck on the window. For a while there was a picture from the newspaper of kids who'd died from a famine, but he tore it down.

"What?" Flake finally goes. "Ask Edwin. Edwin."

I get up and go out into the hall. They're both staring at each other. "Edwin, do the two of you have a group project to work on?" his mom finally asks me.

"We sure do," I tell her.

We're both standing there, hands in our pockets, looking down at her. I know I'm gonna smile or something and blow it.

"What is your group project?" she asks me.

"Photosynthesis," I go.

Flake makes a snorty noise, too soft for her to hear.

She keeps looking at us, both of her hands on the banisters. "You guys are so smart." She taps a finger on the wood, and walks away.

We go back to Flake's room and shut the door. He puts a finger against one nostril and blows boogers into his desk garbage can.

"We have to be totally careful," I tell him. "They can figure out who did it in so many ways now. They can use like DNA and stuff."

"DNA," he goes, like I've finally said the stupidest thing of all.

"What?" I go. "They could."

"Go like this," he tells me, then puts both hands over his mouth. I do like he says.

He drops his hands. "Stay like that," he goes.

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At ten o'clock the phone rings. My mom calls for me to pick it up.

"What's up," Flake says, then waits. "They off?"

"They're off," I go.

"Check," he says.

"They're off," I tell him.

"Just check," he goes.

I throw the phone across the room into the beanbag chair and troop downstairs. They're both watching television. I climb back up to my room.

"All right Mr. Secret Spy," I go. "What do you want?"

"Tonight," he goes. "Three o'clock. Set your alarm."

"I don't think my alarm works," I go.

"Jesus Fucking Christ," he goes. He sighs. He hangs up.

Back downstairs, I ask my mom, "My alarm work?"

She looks up from the tv. "I'll get you up, honey," she goes. She turns back to the tv.

I climb back up to my room and fiddle with the thing. I set it for ten minutes ahead, then five minutes. I can't get it to work. It's a little plastic travel thing and I pound it flat a few times.

What difference does it make? I end up thinking. I'm not going to go to sleep anyhow.

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Everybody's in a group. Everybody spends all their time thinking about their group. Or how they want to be in a different group. It's a big shitpile with everybody shitting downwards so you want to be high as possible. On top are the jocks, though not all jocks. If you only do cross-country, you might as well be on the chess team. Next to the jocks are kids they call the Buffys, because they look like they came off TV. First day of seventh grade Flake and I were in home room and a girl said to him about this new guy, "He is so Angel." The guy was good looking and had that shit in his hair. And Flake said back to her, "I have no idea what you're talking about."

Behind the Buffys are the school spirit types, the ones who organize the Cookie Drives and Theme Dances and Administration Appreciation Days. Behind them, the kids who play music in a band. Behind them, the other jocks - the track teams and the guys who swim the twelve thousand mile race and stuff like that. Behind them, the artsy types. Behind them, the kids that are good at something real, like math or writing. Behind them, the theater kids. Behind them, the rebels. Behind them, the druggies. Behind them, the kids nobody notices. Behind them, the fuck-ups. Behind them, the geeks. Behind them, the kids from like the sticks, the trailer types. Behind them, the retards and kids with missing jaws and shit. Behind them, us. Our group is a group of two.

Every so often people do nice things for each other but mostly you don't trust anyone out of your group. That's just the way things are.

They're all ants. Jock ants, artsy ants, theater ants.

Boil water and pour it down an anthill, the ants come out another hole, Flake says. My mom has a bad dream. I hear her downstairs. I go down without making any noise and peek into their room. She's quiet and then flops over and makes a whining noise. My dad sleeps through it. She makes the whining noise again.

It's just about three o'clock. I go back upstairs to get ready. I think about cutting holes in an old wool hat like a bank robber and then imagine Flake's face when he sees it. When he walks into the yard, he's wearing the saucepan on his head. I wave from the window and climb down.

The grass is wet and the crickets are going like it's summer. It feels great to be out. There's no moon I can see so it's pretty dark. Flake sticks his arms out and takes a huge deep breath, then pounds on his chest like a gorilla. We walk over to his yard.

Behan sleeps in the neighbors' house. We check out the situation and everything's quiet. We walk over to the doghouse like we're all Whatever, but we're ready to run if we hear a noise. My feet are already soaked. When we get there Flake hands me the saucepan and crawls inside. His legs and butt don't fit in. I'm interested in the shingles on the little roof. You can pick off the pebbly stuff with your fingernails. He backs out with a baggie in his hand and we take off.

"Nice watchdog," he says once we're out of the yard.

"Where'd you get the saucepan?" I ask. It doesn't look new.

Turns out he got it from the Goodwill bin.

"How do you think of shit like that?" I ask him.

He shrugs as he walks. We're moving pretty fast and keeping to the backyards. "I'm smarter than you," he goes.

He's smarter than me in some things, dumber in others.

Something's sloshing and I realize he's got a canteen on his belt under his sweatshirt. He sees me looking at it.

"Gotta have water," he says. "Wanna have to find a sink once we get in there?" The school's a pretty good hike away, on foot. I don't know how long it takes to get there. At a red light we see a cop car, just hanging out.

When we finally get there I'm yawning like crazy.

"Now you got me doing it," Flake says. We're both pretty nervous.

My feet are tired. "How're we getting in?" I ask him.

"Watch," he says. He leads around to the old part of the building, to a window under the back stairs. It's totally dark under there and I can't see anything at all. I hold my hand out but can't even feel anything.

"Shit," Flake goes.

"What?" I go. "What's wrong?"

"I stuck a card in the window to hold it open," he goes. I can hear him feeling around. "Somebody must've found it."

"They found it?" I go. "So they know we're coming?"

"Yeah, it's a trap," Flake goes. "The whole thing's a trap." He ducks out from under the stairs and comes back a minute later. Glass breaks like somebody dropped a mug on the floor.

"You just broke the window?" I go.

"C'mon," he tells me. There are little brittle noises while he breaks away the broken pieces. "Watch the glass."

"They'll know that's how we got in," I tell him back.

I can hear him already sliding through. I feel around the opening, then hop up on the ledge and slide one leg inside.

"You have to drop down a little," he says. "Hang on to the sill."

"Can we get out this way?" I go.

"Jeez, I sure hope so," he goes.

He knows where everything is, once we're in.

"You been down here before?" I ask him.

He takes out a flashlight the size of a pickle and starts shining it around in front of his feet. We come to three straight doors that turn out to be unlocked. Behind the last one I can see the little red pilot light of the furnace. I can feel the heat on that side of the room.

"Hold this," he says, handing me the flashlight. He squats and takes the saucepan and sets it on the floor and undoes his belt and slides out the canteen. I'm sweating and I'm not even doing anything. He pours the water into the saucepan and dumps the powder into the water. He reseals the ziplock bag and stuffs it into his pocket, then sloshes the pan a little to stir things around. He stands up. There's a pin like the thing you stick in a turkey in the biggest pipe leading into the furnace, at the part where the pipe's going sideways. He slides the pin out and shifts the pipe around until it moves. It opens, but not far enough for the saucepan to fit in.

"Shit," he says.

"It doesn't fit?" I go.

"Shit," he says. He wrestles with it for five minutes, with me holding the light on it. Then he kicks the side of the furnace and sits on the floor.

"How about we pour some of it in the baggie and just leave the baggie open in there?" I ask him.

He doesn't say anything. He's probably wondering if you could get enough stuff in the baggie to do any good.

"God damn it," he finally says.

The furnace clicks on. The open pipe makes it sound louder than it probably normally would.

"Lemme think," Flake goes. He stands up and walks over to the furnace. I zigzag the light around while he's thinking. "Shit," he goes. He slides the pipe back where it was, then drops his pants and pisses on the side of the furnace. Walking home he's mad because his piss ended up splashing around and got on his shoes.

"What're you looking at?" he wants to know.

"Absolutely nothing," I go.

He squishes along. My feet are wetter than his, but his probably feel wetter. "Somebody's going to pay for this," he finally says.

"Your mom, when she washes your socks?" I go.

An old guy in an SUV trails us all the way home. He has to go about a mile an hour to keep from getting ahead of us. We stay on the road anyway. It's a long walk and the guy never speeds up. It must be four in the morning by this point. We don't see a single other car on the road. When we get to Flake's street, he turns to the SUV and puts his hands on both sides of his crotch and moves them up and down his thighs and belly. "Oh, baby," he says, "c'mon, baby." Then he turns and heads down to his house.


“This Is What Gets Me”
Courtney Weber
Issue 15 - Fall 2004

“Someone's Drunk Wife”
Susan Buttenwieser
Issue 18 - Fall 2005

"Getting a Date for Amelia"
Matthew Cheney
Issue 4 -
Summer/Fall 2001

Photo © Michael Hough

Charles Baxter
Issue 10 -
Spring/Summer 2003