Sometimes, you just need to break stuff. Take the most tangential, inconsequential, and benign plot idea, and expand it into an experimental piece to prick and prod at for genetic code. Sometimes, you just need to write a story that breaks rules, while executing with vague precision. I can promise you none of that here.
What I can give you, is a tale about a few young adults on the precipice of manhood, its many surprises, and defining moments that will thrust them forward.
It aspires to break the rules, but it puts some things back together again along the way.
We were merciless little cretins—mindlessly galvanizing along the main roads like Robinhood and his merry men after a killer-score. Though we lacked the nobility and righteousness of cause, we carried on as if we’d escaped slavery with both our feet. Noon on a Thursday felt like waking up from a coma, only to realize it’s the start of a long weekend. “What’s the occasion,” they’d ask. We’d answer “life.”
I’ll bet you a dollar you can’t hit that windshield from here?
The red car. Behind the blue truck.
Easy money. Give me that bottle…
Four cretins, no more than a dozen pubic hairs between us. Skipping class. Not because we had some burning desire for freedom. Not because it was a good plan. No big bags of gold, some douchebag prince, or heeding maiden. Just because it felt like the right thing to do. Sometimes life just likes to be shattered.
That’s right, bitch. Pay up!
Would both of you stop playing around?
Yeah, we gotta’ dip.
Let’s jump this bus…
The number forty-eight bus would take us as far as Forest Ave, before re-routing West. Jason and I lived on the other side of town—no big deal. We had plenty of time. It was better than being Lou. He lived a town over and couldn’t get home before school got out.
Lou was one of those “special cases,” lent out to Cider high school—in the hopes of improving their grade point average. In exchange, he got a big yellow chauffeur at his beck and call, after 3pm. The faculty was displeased. Lou was such a turd.
You ever been to Marcus’ house before?
I hear his family is into some wild shit.
Wild shit like what?
Like nudism, or somethin’.
You sure nobody’s going to be home?
Nah fool. Just my sisters. They don’t give a fuck.
Word. Aight, then.
Don’t fuck with me, Dre. Why?
Lou thinks your family’s into Voo-Doo.
I told him that was racist. I’ll sort him out.
You do that.
Dre, what the fuck?
Hey man… Next time, don’t gossip.
Jason was the contemplator of the bunch. Second oldest. He didn’t say much unless he had a drink in his system, smoke in his lungs, or something important to say. Otherwise, he’d watch every little detail of the adventure–street signs, corner stores, and landmarks. He’d address every adult as Sir or Ma’am. That kind of kid. “Cállate, cabrónes.” He was good for maintaining the balance. “We’re almost there.”
The public buses were lined in a neon blue fabric that felt like wet rat fur. The floors were a used trough of ridged rubber and gum from front to end. Many a bodily fluid had made their way through the crispy aqueduct that was the number forty-eight bus floors. I just sort of stared for a while, losing myself in the parallel trenches of impoverished masses, imagining them shuffling through like smelly marbles on a fixed track—forgetting about that joint we’d smoked.
We came to a brisk stop, due to Marcus pulling the string at the last second, and spilled out onto Forest Ave.
Shouldn’t you boys be in class?
Thank you, Ma’am. Have a nice day.
Yeah, phat booty.
What? She had a ‘phat’ booty. With a “p.”
We kept pushing up the block, toward Marcus’ house, until we were sure the driver didn’t give chase. While Lou and Marcus bickered about proper cat-calling etiquette, I took a moment to observe my surroundings. It was odd, life on the other side of the chalkboard. Mid-day and in full swing—almost as if it didn’t even need us to carry on. We were so self-important. So inconvenient. So small…
You alright, man?
Yeah… Good. You?
I’m cool. You know, you’ve been talking out loud, right?
What? No. You’re talking out loud.
Whatever you say, amigo… Just don’t think I’m carrying you home this time.
It was once.
One too many.
Whatever, man. Do you know where we’re going?
We were walking in the wrong direction. Marcus casually informed us of the detour as he charged into Frank’s Deli like he owned the place. Lou followed him in, allegedly “starving” due his missed lunch period. Jason and I stood guard out front. Hands in our pockets and staring off into life listlessly passing us by. We even saw the occasional daytime junkie, cycling grandparents, and an old woman with a stolen shopping cart.
All spinning watercolors on the expanding canvas of life. The…
You’re doing it again.
Talking out loud.
You high as fuck.
I was. It didn’t matter. Jason could have his petty judgements and critiques. I was high and didn’t care who knew it. Free. Free as panties at a rap concert. Free as a dope fiend on unemployment. Free as the Second Amendment right to shoot the First Amendment dead for running its mouth. Yeah. Free!
Free as caffeine at a rehab.
You’re doing it again.
Let’s light another one.
We never got too much information on what happened in the deli. As Marcus tells it, he strolled in and made a beeline for the pastries. Lou stopped off by the register and perused the candy. Jason and I didn’t even notice the man hop the three steps to enter the store. We didn’t even hear him cock his gun. But we heard the exchange…
Shut the fuck up!
Please, I don’t have much.
Is this it?
He rushed away after that. Like I told the cops, I couldn’t make out much. He had a loose-fitting jacket. Dark green. Black jeans. Tan boots. I wouldn’t tell them what race. I had enough issues getting home at night, as it was. Let your mother cut all of the hoods off your clothes before you judge me. I didn’t need any more alterations to my wardrobe or my curfew. “He looked white to me, officer. But who can be sure?” Case closed.
Marcus and Lou followed shortly after—both looking like they’d shaken hands with death. Maybe their first time. Jason and I slithered off the walls as they stone-footed themselves down the three steps like it were Everest. Lou, holding a bag of Skittles. Marcus, chewing awkwardly on a honey-bun while staring off into the road.
You guys okay?
Guy got shot.
But we just…
We can use the phone at my house.
And off we went. Two of us high as giraffe pussy. The other two, stiff and shook like a movie-theatre hand-job. What a crew. What a time.
What a life.
Seriously, you’re too high.
Cretins. Marching into a woman’s home without invitation. Ne’er-do-wells cautioning in behind this mad blob of a teen. Hoping for the best. Expecting the worst. Completely void of passing time and the self-awareness to depart. Ghosts. We skipped class. Someone ought to have been looking for us by then. Yet there we floated—pubescent specters in broad daylight. Half of us high as balls.
Hello! Krista. Kristine.
I’ve got company.
Dre, Lou, and Jason.
Fine. If momma’ ask me, I don’t know anything.
Fine. Whatever then. Come on y’all.
We spread out in the living room, within passing distance of one another, while Marcus retrieved his fabled “bottle of hooch.” We weren’t expecting much but a beer. Maybe two. Hell, even a swallow from a discarded pint might impress us. But no. Marcus had a point to prove.
How the hell did you…
Used my brother’s license. We look just alike.
Shut up, Lou. You got–damned colonizer.
And shut up, he did. Meanwhile, Marcus cracked the bottle open and took a swig. It nearly put him on his back. Jason was excited to take the next—he drank whiskey like it owed him something. I took my natural place, at third, in the pecking order. Lou would enjoy the fourth-sip blend of whiskey and backwash.
It was nearly 2pm before we were sane enough to speak English, again. Even then, the comprehension level of our conversations remained debatable. Cretins.
Jason has stood atop the edge of a raggedy couch and poses as Napoleon Bonaparte. Must take note of striking resemblance.
Get off my mother’s couch.
We claim this land, for England!
That’s not even Napoleon.
GET OFF OF MY MOTHER’S COUCH.
Fuck England, then. For France!
Marcus have snacks. Group like snacks. Yum-um-Yum.
Where’s the Jack?
It’s over there.
Suspicious rumblings from upstairs. Marcus looks scared.
The pair of rapid footsteps collapsed down the stairway and fell upon us like a wicked tornado—blasting our good time apart. Demoness and her twin, all to satisfy some wretched desire and sew our woe to endless smithereens. Blackmailers. Liars. Thieves. Snitches. Krista and Kristine…How I loathed thee.
Is your little friend okay?
Who, Dre? Yeah, he’s fine.
Is that daddy’s whiskey we smell?
Ours. And you’re taking out the garbage for the month.
Unless you want us to tell momma’.
Okay, then. And we’re gonna’ need your little friends, too.
Yeah… Ol’ boy Napoleon over there and Mr. Blankface.
Yeah. Just for a minute.
Jason and I had already been latched to a monstresses hand and heading for the stairway. Lou and Marcus would have to enjoy each other’s company just a little longer. What wonders would they have awaiting me? What horrors? What inconceivable…
Shut. Up. Man. You’re gonna ruin it.
Marcus’ sisters were a year older and afforded the opportunity to attend private school on a ‘track and field’ scholarship—not an insignificant detail, considering one of them were now leading me up to her bedroom. There wasn’t much conversation. Just some jabber about an ex-boyfriend and pictures on his phone. My job was to help Krista get even with some pictures of her own. I was intrigued. Though, I wasn’t much of a photographer.
She was a fair bit shorter than me, with plenty of make-up on, and the kind of body that Kardashians pay for. Take that how you want. She closed the door behind us and let me survey the room while she prepared.
It looked like a film studio fucked a Fendi-bag, and delivered the baby in Beyonce’s dressing room. Clothing thrown about and piled. Pictures plastered upon the walls like the peering eyes of Lucifer himself—praying on insecurities and feasting on doubt. Attention. Attention. Cretins.
Um. Are you okay?
Yeah. I’m fine. Just thinking.
Well, stop thinking and drop your pants.
Undies too. You’re going to be my model.
I don’t. Um…
Do it or I’ll scream.
Okay. Okay… Jesus. Hold on.
Aw… You can’t take pictures like that.
Jason was waiting in the hall for Krista to be done with me. He’d been leaning on the metal railing, overlooking the entrance hall, and eyeing the exit like a thirsty man would an ocean. He wanted to leave and I did too. The farewell was just a nail in the coffin.
So, what did they make you…?
I don’t want to talk about it.
“Bye, Mr. Pencil-dick!”
“Really? Mine wasn’t even circumcised!”
We heaved the weight of our shame over our shoulders and down the steps with us. Empty shells of ourselves and foreseeing the divulgence of our private parts all over the internet. Ignorant of the magnitude yet ashamed just the same. Neither one of us, it seemed, had finished the job. This would be a blue-balled blemish of a blunder. One we shan’t speak of without a sufficient lie. It was no time for these matters.
I won’t tell, if you won’t.
But our deal wouldn’t matter for long. For when we descended the last of those ‘hard on the knees’ wooden steps we turned left, toward the living room, and saw a sight we never thought we’d see. Lou, passed out on the couch, sucking his thumb, without a care in the world. Marcus, down on his knees with a mouthful of Lou. Us, at once flabbergasted, aghast, and beside ourselves.
So, we did what any decent friends and people would do. We laughed our asses off.
Nigga, that’s a sex crime!
We oughta’ call Law and Order: S.V.Lou.
What the hell are you doing?
Lou awoke with his pants dangled around in ankles, drenched is Marcus’ honey-bun spit from the waist down, a half-drunk bottle of whiskey in his lap, and questions. We tell him that he got drunk and tried to fuck the whiskey bottle—he buys it. As we departed, we promised to keep Marcus’ secret in exchange for rooting through Krista and Kristine’s phones to delete some unseemly photos of his dear companion’s “dear companions.”
We hopped back on the southbound forty-eight just in time for the rush. The musty blend of vague cigarette smoke and afternoon odors were enough to keep the whiskey smell from raising eyebrows. Jason and I traded a glance or two as the bus filled with hordes of off-hour workers and random others. All like us. All of them suspect. All of them ghosts. All enthralled and intertwined with their own web and awaiting the spider.
We didn’t hear much from Lou. He was too busy pivoting between blackout drunk and damp bewilderment. I didn’t have the heart to tell him the truth. Besides, I figured he had that long bus ride alone to sort things out on his own.
Cretins. The lot of us. Riding off toward our doom. Thrust into the true entropy of it all. Trying to make sense of life, while fearing the subtle “buzz” whirring in our pockets. Fending for ourselves.
God, please let Marcus delete those pictures or strike his family dead… Amen.
Cretins. Reckless. Feckless. Little cretins.
We saw Lou to his big yellow chauffeur and rushed off before the driver could inquire. They don’t get paid to wait around nor, as luck would have it, does their biweekly check entice them to care much about a drunk teen left in their care. Lou was on the bus. So long as he could keep it together for the ride, no one would be the wiser. No one but us.
We caught the eastbound seventy-six and slunk into the rat-fur seats like death row inmates awaiting reprieve. 3:15pm—just about the time either of us would be expected. And oh, how we were expected.
Your phone blowing up, too?
You look yet?
You know we’re fucked, right?
No more than anyone else.
Right! What a fucked-up family…
Word… Just going around blowing random people. Why?
Thanksgiving is probably lit, though.
Not if his pops ever get out of jail.
And there we were, the last of Robin Hood’s merry men—awaiting the steep pain of forthcoming ass-whooping’s, with one day left of classes we’d likely skip. One day closer toward crushing manhood and its hollow echoes of reciprocated orders.
Until then, we’d take every moment we could steal.
Reckless. Abhorrent. Thankless. Free.