obviously the boy never actually wanted to believe anything could possibly be really the matter; well not just anything obviously; possibly the ONLY thing yes’m; not actually the matter itself no sir; mustn’t mention no specifics nah; better to get at the issue’s gore, yeah the core, beating tissue; dope; dependence; reality; what he was here to speak with Marcus about.
there in the boy’s (heart)2; there in the boy’s blood—in the path each&every/single oxidized cell jets through his capillaries at a constant; over a hundred thousand trips on the daily; looped rivers that run red as rum over a hundred thousand miles long; reality; the one cent taste of it on his tongue.
but look it’s all good; good’s green as grass.
the afternoon had been overbaked; the meadowlark’s melody shot straight through:
the boy, here in the border country fresh off a flight from SeaTac, found himself positioned smack-dab beneath the almighty magnifying glass on this buzzed afternoon; KSEN said the high’d be upta 80; and all the lows of this life; a day when the wind did not blow at all in Shelby, Montana.
and even though them holiday highs hit and died six months back, Giovanna had made struffoli; set it out upon the back windowsill to cool and to form; the xmas VHS, dated ‘98, ➤PLAYclick—slip-sliding across checker kitchen KING ME tile in ninja turtle onesies, he & Marcus, Leonardo & Michaelangelo, partners in pizza, careening COWABUNGA! towards the countertop, mmmm RADICAL DUDE! warm, finger-sticky struffoli, the it-bitty, glucose-englossed, fried-up lucky#7color sprinkly pearls ◼STOPclick; ah, that sweet, familiar scent pulled the boy along, as he crossed the conjoining lawn shared by the two one-story homes and made his way to the garage; where stray tangs & snickering zests all charged the tips of his nostril hair with sucrosian static; then, honey hazelnut, coating thick the catacombs of his throat cavity & branched bronchial tubes; and a sugary saliva filled the whole of his mouth. a raccoon had gotten into the old woman Giovanna’s garbage yet again, figures; yanked up the freshest sack, which hung limp over the lip of the battered aluminum can; a bloated, punctured stomach seeping with blown tissues, white-green wonderbread, crunched & crusty milk cartonsHAVEMIYOUSSSEENINGME?, stripped bone & rotting meat. a fallout zone of radiating, putrid air surrounded the trash container, and still some spoils there remained, marinating in the sun for any other neighborhood bandit’s buffet. the boy, mouthbreathing, pinched the ragged gladbag and, after popping a roach between his lips, fed the metal mouth back its foul regurgitants. he drew on the j; let the sour smoke fill his lungs full; and, from its flickering end, a finger of ash crumbled; crawled into the trash. he gave the roach a flick and stared bloodshot as it smoldered. now that Sallongtime local raccoon population’s public enemy no. 1 had been scattered all across the Sweetgrass Hills, the boy worried for Giovanna, worried that the masked ferals would be concocting a right riot right about now; and made a mental note to purchase poison at Hardware Hank’s for the old woman to use in her defense while he was still in town.
for an entire week he had rehearsed what to tell Marcus. they hadn’t seen each other since the accident; about a year back, back when he still felt home at home; and after that, well, the boy took him a flight to Seattle and the boy never came back; but here he was, back again; and not for 24 hours more; today was his last day in Shelby, before he drove back to Great Falls tonight in the rental and caught a flight back to the city, for his diploma, for whatever happened to come next. he’d successfully avoided this conversation for four full days and intended on avoiding it just a few minutes more if he could manage it, dragging his feet lazily across the sundry grass of the Ferrari’s lawn. he was going to sit down with Marcus real serious and he was going to say—
before the thought could grow, a tuneSugar slippedpie betweenhoney thebunch~ still curtains of the back window, clipped it clean.
to be real, the boy was quite stoned this afternoon and hadn’t quit climbing; taking extraordinary care to squash the roachYou know that I love you! flat into the Ferrari’s front lawn before coming anywhere near the back window and the steaming struffoli; and before taking even another step he exhaled and held; inhaled fresh and stepped on even. if his own dear mother ever discovered anything vaguely resembling a doob in his own family’s front yard, the consequences would be dead dire no doubt; and any ass-whooping he could take; but her conceptions of him he could never repair, and those self-manglings he could never live with; but Marcus littered his own lawn all the frickin time, and he knew Giovanna would never mind, would never see, and see, was there ever any harm, any harm at all in never minding none at all? to be real, the boy was quite stoned this afternoon and hadn’t quit climbing; to be real the boy was a hypocrite this afternoon; worse, a con; word, that was him. an evict of his own emotive state; a fugitive of feeling; guilty as charged & a plea deal please; the boy had to be real. and here he was, arriving at the Ferrari’s this afternoon with a lockpick and ski mask to set Marcus free. he laughKMFFFfphtuhkKMFftKMFft!–KMFft! but bitter phlegm; caught rippling in his windpipe. he hawked up and spat; yellow-specked-black.
but look it’s all good; good’s green as grass.
but look at least i’m functioning, he thought to himself, there on the Ferrari’s lawn, as the bronzed blades of wheatgrass broke beneath his bare feet; so many uttering tongues; so many of them silenced. when Sal was still around, the Ferrari’s half of the two families’ shared yard was constantly kept crisp; had in fact had won Yard‘and a half,’ as he often liked to tease Marcus of the Week in the Promoter a total sixteen (16) times over the course of twelve (12) years and Sal certainly kept count; pasted each Promoter bit proudly to the fridge; but the present-tense’s patchwork, leprous lawn really wasn’t Giovanna, or even Marcus’s fault; truth was the whole Toole County hadn’t seen a right rain in two whole months; a scarlet drought had puckered the earth and crystallized rock salt into its open sores; but lookI atcan’t leasthelp i’mmy-self~ functioning, he thought to himself. i’m functioning and Marcus is not. Marcus’s habits have begun to impede his ability to f u n c t i o n. but i’m functioning. but look at least i’m functioning and Marcus is not.
—not a phantom, not this time nah; but a text message: +1 (425) 773-9—no; so it was a phantom; enough; right off he recognized the number belonged to ChristineI love you and nobody else–! and shoved his cell straight back into the pocket. he had three times deleted her contact information cold turkey and three times restored his cellphone’s memory once he’d a craving for herIn and out my life~.
(he hated his cellphone. he loved his cellphone.)∞ and in the real world, when some stupid shit came out of the boy’s mouth and caused him to physically recoil and crack his molars in a subatomic rage, the verbal offense would simply leave his lips; blow up the moment; and evaporate; dissipate into _______. but with a text message, heYou come and you go! was forced to stare at it. and his words stared right back at him; and they all spoke out of turn; all telling him in turn that my god mio dio mamaluke you really are such a stupid fucking idiot aren’t you.
from the conversations he had had with Christine (over text message; they argued exclusively over text message), this much he had gathered: essentially, she just wanted him to be happy and he just wanted her to be happy, and she just wanted to be happy and he just wanted to be happy. ‘so let’s all just do what makes us happy, then,’ the boy muttered, tugging down at the maroon Shelby Coyote basketball shorts he had on that day; the ones complete with the cheese-grater fabric that the hair on his thighs curled through. 2002, his junior year; post free throw bonanza after an optional offseason workout at the Horseshoe following one long lap on the pothole-infested track that no one on Earth saw him run; Coach pulls the boy aside; sits him on down; and explains quite matter-of-factly that while he recognized all of the extra, hard work the boy had been putting in at the gym lately, and appreciated, really a-ppre-ci-ated, all of the unprovoked enthusiasm he had shown for the upcoming season (which its level of importance Coach described as E-ssential); Lyle and Malvin would be moving up to Varsity instead of him; in place of him. at first, the boy refused to believe the words coming from Coach’s mouth; left the Horseshoe bubbling to erupt; under his breath cursed every single banner hung across the Coyote gymnasium walls, as he walked into the locker room to collect his things; erased the already drawn-up play on Coach’s clipboard; stomped from the locker room and sped home in the jeep where he punched his pillow til his arm was good and dead, til he figured dead might be pretty good. the next day, he went to Mr. Lackey and told him what Coach had said; and Mr. Lackey ensured the boy that there was still a spot for him on the Junior Varsity squad if still he had it in him to play, a spot right there in the starting lineup; and inside, what will did the boy find? not an ounce. the fact was, all of his friends would be moving up to Varsity, if they were not already seated there comfortably, playing good minutes, being cheered on by the entire town of Shelby, the Maroon & Golden Boys, painted jersey no.’s on cheerleader cheeks, stickers stuck up in every window up Main StreetGOOD LUCK AT STATE, BRING HER HOME, BOYS! GO YOTES!, plus co-ed community service, Promoter articles and KRTV on-air interviews, ditching class to travel cross-state for tournament time. it was obvious, and now, to the boy, too: he just wasn’t good enough. he wept in front of Mr. Lackey there in the empty classroom and was ashamed for it; never mentioned a word of the subject again to anyone; and he quit just the same; without a word. but he had kept his practice jersey and his shorts, still, after all these added years; and all these added years had aged him, remarkably (his forehead crease was increasing in all three dimensions at an alarming rate); and all these added years had been just as cruel to his old practice uniform; the numberLeaving just on both backs of the reversible maroon&gold&gold&maroon jerseyyour picture behind~ fading fast; the 70s era waistband coming unraveled; yes, he quit without a word.
but it was not that way with Christine. he could not quit her with every word pressed between pages; and she said he’d a way with words; but those words didn’t always find their way. he had an issue quitting on people. sometimes quitting before their expiration date had arrived; oftentimes long after it had come and gone; the relationship gone green; mold spores through all the thick and the thin. like Marcus; no, more like him; Christine had dependencies. but she too functioned, and so basically believed nothing could possibly be actually really the matter. the boy knew that she hated herself; quote ‘am not gentle or emotional or compassionate or intelligent or deep’ end quote; and despite that, still held herself to a stiff standard that the real Christine constantly snapped, that the real Christine could never match; this woman she had in her mind, faceless and vague, vogue and fearless; completely independent of any one and any thing. she wanted to feel something; or nothing; and so the drinking; but there was one feeling he knew she felt too, and only when she was sober; those same, warm pangs in the center soft of one’s chest, deep in the dark of the night when there was no one at all around, and the rain of a passing Seattle storm seemed to seep into one’s bones and dampen one’s soul; she too felt that same sinking; the sinking they both would rather just totally not talk about, like, at all; the sinking they both would rather just totally leave buried beneath the earth to rot.
but what good was this dwelling? he had decided Christine would be apart from his present; become a part of his past.
his past; so perpetually present.And I kissed it a thousand times~
he would dwell a moment more; and though he tried to dig up the good times, he came up only with the bad; during he and Christine’s first Major Argument, as the two-day-long excruciating verbal entanglement came to an unravelling, he, as a sort of coup de grâce, texted her the number to the 24 Hour Alcohol Abuse Recovery Hotline1-877-725-5672, and wrote something to the effect of: he would always be there for her if she ever needed any help at all or someone to talk to. he wrote those words because he was concerned, deeply worried about her habits, and disregard for her own self-destruction; but more than anything he knew those words would hurt her; and at this point in their ‘relationship,’ he seemed to be more acutely knowledgeable in that area than anywhere else and Christine appeared to agree; well, any area except the southern regions, for how she howls when i go down on her, he thought to himself with a smug chapped little smirk, approaching the Ferrari’s back window. for some reason, thinking back on their sex lives gave him a sense of control back. but Christine made him howl, too; both in ecstasy and infuriation. and he had thought this whole thing through; so through and through; and had repeatedly come to the same conclusion too: that it was his own addictive personality—, rather, his own personality addiction; this, for sure, was the absolute reason those who struggle with addictions of their own gravitated towards each other, and vice versa. for the boy, there was never any in-between with people. he either loved a person to death or he hated their guts to the grave; and if he was indifferent towards a person, then they quickly would fade from the crowded monkeysphere in his mind; the jungle gym of relations and unrelationsWhen you snap your fingers~; finally freeing up another rung for another hand. he wondered, as he tore clean a cluster of sticky struffoli and popped it in his mouth to melt, whose spot Christine had taken, when he met her that night; his old room mate Martin’s house party, figures; after he had missed the ferry to Gig Harbor and decided well what the damn hell he was in the city for another night anyhow and might as well come to this stupid party anyway well hey—. the boy wondered, when would the image of Christine’s sideways glancesOr wink your eye–! and permanently pouty lips and tangled black hair hidden everywhere in his apartment finally lose their grip?I come a-runnin’ to you~
something he had read in a book once: ‘the people we are most fond of are not good for us when we are ill.’ he figured that made quite a bit of sense, but made a few alterations to suit his own needs: ‘the people who are not good for us we are most fond of, for we are ill.’
he pardoned his head through the dancing curtains and called for Giovanna; she must be out to church, the boy thought, before tearing off another hunk of struffoli and walking on. he knew Marcus would not be home today anyway. the music trailed him.I’m tied to your apron strings~
so this how you punish me, the boy thought to himself as he crossed down 4th street; the baked asphalt singeing the soles of his feet. it was then he thought he’d heard the bells from down at St. William’sGONGGONGGONG, GONG–GONGGONGGONGGONG!; so this how you punish me. his thoughts drifted again to Christine as he swallowed the sweet mouthful of struffoli; he never should have told her that he was in love. that gave her too much power; no one should have such a power over me, he kept telling himself, no one. now, she knew that ruining herself would ruin him too; quote, ‘being blackout it’s like this force takes control of my body and i don’t have to use my brain and just let events unravel on its own and it’s relaxing’ end quote.And there’s nothing that I can do–!
but look it’s all good; good’s green as grass.
he preferred to smoke. his father preferred to smoke. his father’s father preferred to smoke; and the preference killed him. but the boy’s father wasn’t dead, not yet; though their relationship was a cold case; and the only memory of his Papa was of a withered corpse that looked just like the boy’s own father, just like him, laid up in the green la-z-boy at his Nonie’s house, with plastic tubes coming from the husk’s nose to a tank at his side that went tst… tssst…! tst…, and the big plug-in fan on the groundWHRWHRWHRWHRWHR that Papa told the boy not to stick his finger in when he tried to, just to be bold. when the boy’s family still lived back east in the ‘90s, he and his sisters would destroy their father’s cigarettes, snuffing out his Marlboros buried in drawers beneath saved receipts & torn envelopes and pushed deep between the sofa cushions; until one day he gave in & quit; and the boy and his sisters cheered, and their mother smiled; and even now, when he came back home, the boy found his father’s cigarettesI can’t help myself, tucked away in the car’s consoleno I can’t help my-self!, as if his old man still had good reason to hide.
the boy preferred to smoke marijuana. he first tried it with Marcus the summer of their senior year, at a buddy’s cabin up in Whitefish, and he was more nervous back then than back when Meghan M. told him they could quote ‘do whatever he wanted,’ in the basement of their old house while Reefer Madness played MUTE⌀ on the television set and his family was asleep because it was 2:26 a.m. on a school night. Marcus had crushed a soda can in the center; with the tip of a steak knife poked holes through the one side, nested in the dent he’d made; and another, larger hole by the base. then he took out a crumpled bag of weed; chopped the green up with the steak knife and sprinkled it on the can’s top. they stripped down to their underwear to avoid the smell sticking to their clothes, and stepped outside. the smoke was harshI’m weaker than a man should be!, and at first, the boy felt nothing. then he and Marcus gathered their clothes; went back inside; and the boy felt everything; and nothing like he had ever felt before; like before, his brain was sprouting up in a hundred thousand different directions; a follicle for remembering to take the trash out before Ma got back home from Albertson’s, a follicle for Aaron Boone’s 2003 walk-off home run in Game 7 of the ALCS versus the Red Sox and the Yankees’ ensuing World Series loss to the underdog Marlins 4-2, a follicle for the time he told the man from Marias River Electric that he knew nothing about the telephone exchange shack by their home being destroyed when really he and Marcus had just been drinking and decided it’d be a fun idea to huck bricks; being high just sort of trimmed the unruly tops off everything.
the Whitefish cabin was a special occasion; but lately, every occasion had been special. lately he was high from the moment he woke to the moment he hit the sack; every occasion in life marijuana made special. the boy wasn’t even positive as to why he really got high any longer; exactly what it made him feel, besides, familiar; at least to himself. but he gave himself credit; at least he was functioning, unlike Marcus; at least it wasn’t cocaine, or heroin, like his older brother’s buddy Gabriel got into; it could be much worse, he thought to himself; yeah, he was much better off than most folk; much better off.
taking his sweet timeWanna tell you I don’t love you, the boy reached the end of 4th Street & hopped the iron gate, landing bare-foot on the trimmed, dead grass that was like bronze wool; it was so much more simple to just let stuff go, he thought, gazing out across the rippling field, where Mr. Gruner steered the riding mower in the distance, topped by his maroon ballcap and reflective sunshades and inch-thick application of SPF50; he’d been mowing the same 900 square feet since before the boy could remember.Tell you that we’re through~ how much more of a damn hassle would it be to just let the grass grow? well—except for in a place like this.And I’ve tried!
as he made his way closer, the boy’s little toe scraped quick the side of a sharp stone; always so clumsy when he was stoned; he cursed in pain, and for a moment considered walking back home and forgetting about the whole entire thing dammit. but he was here now and for an entire week he had rehearsed;
for an entire week he had rehearsed what to tell Marcus.But every time I see your face it had been only a year since they last saw each otherI get up all choked up inside~, but to the boy, that time seemed to be stretched transparent, and squashed opaque; just like he was coming to the end of one long day. he was going to sit down all serious with Marcus and tell him—and tell him that he loved him. but that that basically wasn’t enough; nah not nearly; that love had to be more than words; more than the occasional text message; more than a few beers and a bowl when he came to visit. he had planned to tell Marcus, man-to-man, that no man ever got through this life on his own; he thought all about how he had placed his own addictions on others; because it made him feel less guilty about his own behavior; because it gave him company; because it was the part of himself he knew how to share most easily; and he thought all about how much Marcus had changed after high school; how he got lost. the boy figured that the talk of Shelby had always been about how great Marcus was; a smart ballplayer, active in the community, bright kid w/ bright future; and when he finally got out on his own and actually had to prove that stuff to the rest of the world; the pressure collapsed on his throat; and he suffocated himself in weed smoke, drowned himself in liquor. the boy knew that pressure; that pressure to be somebody, to make something of yourself already god dammit because look it’s happening RIGHT NOW this is it this is the show this is our time brother! but the boy, 475 miles away in Seattle, had no way to check up on Marcus how he wanted to; how he felt he owed Marcus; and so he relied on Marcus’s older brother, & his friends, to keep tabs on him; but they had their own lives to keep tabs of; and in the end, Marcus was Marcus’s responsibility; and in the end everyone knew, there was no forcing Marcus. he never took to criticism well; never wanted no help; and he held a grudge; so the idea of approaching him about this? no; it would be much easier to just let things go. after high school, the two of them kept close in touch, and the boy received message after message from Marcus, messages which he never totally understood how to respond to; once with Marcus laughing hysterically at one of their friends puking his guts up with a 40oz. to go; once so wasted he was making no sense at all; once with a half-finished six-pack of Moose Drool between his foot on the gas pedal and the clutch, twisting up the mountain roads of Missoula; and then, no more.
the boy knelt down to the headstone; the one engraved with Marcus’s full name and final date; brushed the grass aside; thought he ought to say a few words; but had none left in his mouth.