We were lolling around Lee’s basement, like so many rag dolls, filling the ceiling with smoke and memories of grade school, from a time before we’d all met.
“Ringolos.” I said, after some thought.
“The hell are Ringolos?”
“You know, those little corn-chip ring things? They used to be big enough to fit your fingers. Or, actually, our fingers used to be small enough to fit them.”
Almost in response, Adrian blew a smoke ring.
“No, no,” I smiled, “smaller than that.”
He leaned back and his fingers absently drummed his knee, a purposeful tarantula’s walk. “I don’t think I did that as a kid.”
“We did it all the time,” I watched his hand while I cradled my head in my arm. “We’d say each ring meant you were married to a boy in class. As soon as we said which boy, we’d all squeal and bite the rings off. Marriage annulled.”
“Oh, hey!” Lee had been lounging upside down on his armchair and his leg popped up as he spoke. “Witch fingers!” he pointed at me and grinned.
“We used to make witch fingers with those, oh god, what do you call them,” he made curly groping motions with his hands. Adrian and I shared a quizzical look.
“Oh, Bugles!” he said finally, and pointed triumphantly with the two fingers that held his own cigarette. “Bugles were fingernails and fingertips at the same time, because they were pointed, but they were also yellow and lumpy, so they could have been just, like, really gross skin. We used to try to scare girls in our class with them.”
Adrian pointed back at Lee and tapped the side of his nose – a small enough motion, but it was like every bit of his arm’s anatomy was stretched out on display, his veins like raised rivers. His arm came to rest at his side and he took another pull of his cigarette. Again, subconsciously, his free hand tapped away on the couch cushion, and I could see every tendon, knuckle, and sinew that set his skin rippling.
“I think you guys were just unhealthy kids,” he said, a puff of smoke for every syllable. “I always got mango hedgehogs in my lunch.”
As one, we sighed in affirmation. That was it: the common ground memory.
“It’d be cut up in your lunch already,” he continued, “but it’d be up to you to turn it inside out without ripping any of the skin around the edges. I swear, man, if I have any dexterity today at all, it’s from trying to turn those half-mangos inside out.”
“Yeah,” Lee grinned into the clouded ceiling, “they were pretty great.”
We steeped in nostalgia for a moment, wearing small smiles. In the silence, Adrian finished the dregs of his cigarette and stubbed it out in the saucer on the coffee table. The bones from the top of his wrist went out at exact forty five degree angles to meet his hands – his hands were perfect spades.
“Let’s walk,” Lee barked suddenly. I flinched. In a split second he had righted himself and was on his feet, like a rake someone had stepped on. “Come on, let’s get fresh air. Give the room a chance to air out before my folks get back.”
Adrian stood, stretched, and stepped up on to the couch beside me to crack open the little high window. Smoke rushed out into the suburban night like bathwater.
Lee swatted his gangly, metre-stick arm at me as he walked by: “C’mon, geddup.”
Gathering my sweater around me, I uncoiled and stood, cuffs balled up in my fists.
We had acquired liquor. Lee had pilfered his older brother’s driver’s license and we were so excited we practically grew wings on our heels on the way to the beer store, hissing at each other to “be cool, goddammit”, and generally being the human equivalent of mongrel pups. “A forty of something” was the consensus, but Lee had always been an over-enthusiastic, if well-meaning sort, and bought us a forty each when he stepped into the store on his own. Adrian and I made a show of patting our pockets for cash when he came back out, but Lee blew another raspberry and tossed us each our bottles before whooping down the street into the night. As Adrian and I started briskly after him, I shook my head and turned up a corner of my mouth.
Adrian twisted the cap off his bottle and said the last words I would soberly hear that night: “If you were that rich with only two friends, you’d be a little wacky too.” We raised our bottles to Lee and each took a swig.
For a long time, when I was young, I was not sold on the idea of getting drunk for fun. Looking back, I tried to find my tipping point of that opinion. If I could remember the point when getting drunk stopped being dumb and started having a purpose, then I could isolate the point at which reality, that is, sobriety, had become less than ideal and the world become hard to navigate.
Only after I had the classic adolescent thoughts and insecurities I couldn’t articulate (that, tragically, many others shared but were also too flabbergasted to convey) did I start to go to parties, or bars, or under the south stairwell, with the conscious plan to get drunk. So, sometime between then and childhood sits the tipping point, I suppose.
“Jesus, I don’t even know what this stuff is.” Adrian pressed his nose to the glass and rolled the neck of the bottle against his knotted forehead. “It doesn’t, it doesn’t matter but I’d just, I would just like to know.”
“I know what’d is,” I slurred. “It’s free.”
Slack-jawed and toothy, Adrian beamed in understanding. He dangled slantwise from the swing-set pole with one hand and had his forty in a chokehold in the other. “Lemme ask you, Faye,” he swung back and forth in semi-circles, his shoes grinding the sand, “if you and your friends never wanted, in school, never wanted to marry, those boys in your class, why’d you Ringolo? Do the thing?”
“I dunno. We all hated the boys in our class, so we were gonna jus’ marry our best friends.”
“Ah. But then, I bet, I bet there was much debate on who was who’s best friend.”
“Psht, oh yeah, but we wouldn’t fight about it. It was as more like… goods exchange. Very business-like.”
He snickered through his teeth and his tongue.
“How about,” Lee chirped from his stance in the toddler swing, “how about when you realized your finger was too big to fit a Ring-Pop anymore? As like, a Childhood whatsit?”
“Oh yeah!” We both pointed at Lee in affirmation.
“They started making them with the split plastic at the bottom,” Lee mused as he swung, “kids’ fingers kept getting stuck. Lawsuits.”
“Lawsuits,” I said back to him.
The hinges of the toddler swing began to squeal in protest. Lee’s face lit up and he immediately started thrashing his body around to play a tune.
“Sometimes,” Adrian’s empty bottle hit the sand with a musical chunk, “I just want to rub your face, with my face.”
I was all of a sudden word-intolerant. His sentence the whole-wheat pizza to my celiac brain. I wanted to nail down and inspect what had just passed through my ears with a magnifying glass– but the air was warm, wriggling, and oily, and speech and thought slipped in and out and through it with infuriating ease. From my seat in the centre of the teeter-totter, I blinked hard to try and focus on Adrian in the dark. He had his arms out to the open air, eyes closed, as if he were about to take an imaginary face in his hands. His collapsible army-shovel hands.
I opened my mouth to make sound come out, but all that happened was Adrian got distracted by a disused kickball and stumbled away after it.
“Ah! Lee, you sneak, make noises when you walk.” He had soundlessly transitioned from the toddler swings to my teeter totter.
“Sorry.” If he didn’t sit with his hip touching mine, he’d be too far from the fulcrum and the whole thing would tip in his direction. “Can I ask you? Little something?”
“Yeah, shoot,” I said as I watched Adrian toddle around the flabby kickball.
“Why’re you here?”
My brow knotted and I turned to blink at him. “Why ‘m I here?”
“I mean, Adrian hangs around because I’m loaded and he makes other people feel shitty; I’m here because shit, where else ‘m I going to be-”
“How does he make people feel shitty?”
“Oh, I don’t know, something about the way he talks with you or the way he points at you, I don’t know, something dumb, but there’s no one else can stand him ‘cept for us. But you. Adrian’s a dick and I’m,” he wiggled his long fingers in the air around his head, “whatever, but I don’t get you being here. You’re a girl, you’re, like, nice-enough looking – what the hell?”
“What the hell?”
“Why’re you hanging around with us when you could be,” he windmilled his arm to the open air and snickered, “anywhere else?”
I pushed my hand across my face and into my hair. “That’s not a question.”
“No, it’s not a real question, it’s a nonsense question. Why’s park filled with sand? It could be filled with pebbles or woodchips or,” I whirled my arm around in a circle, “anything else!”
I stood up to leave but lost my footing in the sand and hip-checked Lee off the fulcrum. He plopped ass-up into the sand and was now snickering uncontrollably. I left him to inhale the sand and stumbled out of the pit to the field. Adrian was kicking the ball around flatulently and doubling over in silent laughter every now and then.
“You.” I said as I approached. “You dick.”
“I challenge you,” with a thwomp I sent the ball lolloping up the field with my sandaled foot, “to a game of soccer.”
“Kay.” He leaned forward,
and the air around my head became sludge and the sandpit fell away and the climber and the swings and the playground fell away and the field just plummeted away from under my feet leaving me behind to helplessly float atop of nothing as if earth wasn’t true like I had been lying about it since the day I’d met anyone and no one would ever know it wasn’t true but I would know and that would be enough it would be enough to keep my calves tensed and hollow pits erupting in my bladder and my lumbar spine to fool me into thinking I was constantly about to fall away and plunge right down after that field with the farting kickball
and carefully placed the knuckles of his loose fist against my cheek, wearing a small smile.
“Sock,” he said.
I vomited in my hands.
Short(er) Fiction Vol. 1 is a collection of Blasted Tree original short stories.
ISBN [Digital]: 978-0-9938364-5-9
Cover Design by Kyle Flemmer - Cover Image by Jesse Anger
Feature Image by Derrick Collins