Great Balls of Fire
The Boy carefully approached The One they called Emma Fae. Hey, you, Mom wants you on candy detail tonight. She just called. Shes got to work tonight.
Largely pleased with himself nowgiant, spectacular butterfly wings opened up behind him, held and splayed against the background, before coming together with a whiff of silent air. I know it sucks, Emma. Im sorry, Im really sorry, Emma, but Mom has got to work tonight at the hospital, Ive got a whole bunch of things to do, and Im not sure when Im coming back home tonight, and Mom doesnt want Grandma standing by a drafty door all night giving out candy, OK? Is that OK?
She waited until he was finished. Two jets of air left her flared and pierced nostrils. Feyen.
His face assumed an expression of overwhelming and debilitating fatigue. Geesh, pulling teeth.
Emma was sitting Indian-style in front of the dryer with dark clothesher dark clothescrawling out of its mouth, trying to escape their inexorable and unenviable future. Her. His girl-cousin. The college dropout turned unwanted houseguest. Persona non grata to the max.
No, silly, said Emma. It sucks that Aunt Undine cant be here tonight. I love Halloween. Its my favorite. Were having a party, you know.
What party? he said, quickly.
Party of the Century.
Never mind, he said, and started to walk away.
Me and Grandma, she continued, scratching the middle of her forehead, have most of the cooking already done. I dunno, I suppose you've been sleeping all day
Im going to be there, though. At the party. Grandma is going to be there. Mr. Moscow is planning to be there. Aunt Undines friend Robert, the doctor guy, he is coming. And some other people, too. Would you like to come to our Party of the Century? Maybe a plus one?
He took another step and paused. That sounds like quite a soiree, Emma, but Ive already made previous engagements.
previous engagements are the worst. I hate them. Thumbs down. Thumbs down, she said, still looking up at him. By the way, cuz, be tea dubs, do you know what happened to my organic garden outside? Somebody smashed it up.
There were other defectsclearly. Most people would agree that her ears were far too long and too pointy for her small head, always peeking out the sides no matter the hairstyle. The fairy trail of lazy freckles that ran from her left eye all the way to the bottom of a disturbingly pink nostril sometimes looked like dirty tears that had dried up on her dumb face. Other times The Boy was convinced that his girl-cousin looked more like an anime character, a Japanese cartoon. Not a person. Why anyone would want to look like a Japanese cartoon and not a person was beyond his sizable comprehension. It was the head-to-body ratioadmittedly exaggerated by many of her emo hair styles. Though she hated it when you called her that, emo. But emos always hate it when you call them emo. They become so emotional about it. Nonetheless, there was always a section of her hair that was twisted and tortured and pulled in a direction that conflicted with the rest of her hair. Emmas struggling hairstylist (which was her) also favored sharp edges and odd shapes and massive and massive and massive quantities of hair paste. These emo chicks, these serial dyers, these pierced and painted human tragedies suffering on the corners of the streets, just waiting for you to come up and just give them a hug and tell them that everything was going to be OK, it was all going to be OKThe Boy had seen people like her before. There was nothing new about their trends and trendiness. There was nothing unique about people who wanted to look unique. The Emma Faes of the world. They just wanted you to take them seriously and think that they were really deep people with really deep thoughts and that, unlike the rest of us, us poor, one-dimensional fuckers, frittering away our animal hours in vapid, idle, temporary amusements, they were off heroically spelunking the depths of midnight metaphysical quarries and traversing great emotional empires and supergalaxies each night because, after all, they had a real affinity with infinity and were probably the chosen ones. It was all written down in their blogs. Their very public online diaries. With tags such as #depression and #adolescent ennui and #if the ocean was as deep as me, it would be crying too.
The Boy was sitting on the carpet now, back straight, his arms still folded strongly against his chest. The machine next to the dryer was humming through another spin cycle, before coming to a stop with a loud, mechanical lurch. Hey, what are you going dressed as? Tonight?
Emma finished folding a tee-shirt that had TEE-SHIRT written across the front of it in large, ironic pink letters. She looked over at him, making her eyebrows move, but not her mouth. Hmm, what?
For Halloween. All Hollows Eve. That thing that makes everyone put pumpkins on their porch and dress up in crappy, retarded costumes for some reason. What are you dressing up as, retard?
Oh, yeah, har har. I dunno. Maybe a cheeseburger.
A cheeseburger? he asked, shaking his head.
Hmm, Im starving, she said. I sure do wish McDonalds or Burger King delivered around here. Wouldnt that be great, cuz?
But people dont like to deliver cheeseburgers and hamburgers.
The Boy was confused. Wait, stop being confusing. Youre dressing up as a cheeseburger tonight, or you want to eat a cheeseburger?
Emma thought about it and then wagged her lips at him. Her famously rigorous intellect was in pure absorption. They just like to deliver Italian and Chinese. But not any cheeseburgers. Thats one of the things Ive noticed about the world. No cheeseburgers.
If you want a cheeseburger, just go downstairs to the kitchen and make one. I think we all know that you know where the kitchen is, Emma, said The Boy, thinking of some Fruit Roll-Ups and leftover pepperoni pizza slices that had recently been thieved during the night. She had her knees tucked underneath her chin now and ran a finger lengthwise down the embroidery work on her canvas shoes. McDonalds wont deliver because of all of them hamburglars out there. Thats probably it, huh.
What? He made a show of his exhausted patience. The air in the house suddenly seemed to stop moving and everything was stale and too hot and too intense. Rising to his feet, he began hating himself for having wasted so much time on an obviously disturbed and hopelessly puerile individual, the type that shouldnt be wandering around unchecked by mental health professionals. The type you definitely shouldnt be wasting your time on.
Hey, B-Wing! Where you going, B-Wing?
Turning, he said, carefully, Emma
have a lot of growing up to do. We all think so.
Her tongue came out of her mouth. A flash of pinkness, then gone. Emma laughed again and found something in one of her little stacks that looked like a small, black eyepatch with Hello Kitty symbols printed all over it. She pulled the elastic around a thumb, made it taut, and released the projectile which went scudding through the air, down the hallway, past an open door to a bedroom, past the framed family portraits, past a white linen closet, and struck the target directly in the middle of the face before he had a chance to duck. Perfect hit. Pikachu! Pikachu!
* * *
Downstairs, Emma was sitting on the carpet, showing Hobbit Bob the latest addition to her scar collection while a Halloween-themed movie flickered noiselessly on the big-screen television set in the living room. There was some movement and sound in the kitchen and pantry areanoisy ice cubes hitting glass, a microwave, shuffling, coughing, a male voice, and female staccato laughter.
Well, hello, mister, she said. I thought that you were going to a party tonight. What happened? Have you been upstairs the entire time?
, groaned The Boy, for your information
First of all, I didnt say I was going to a party, I said I had things to do. Theres a difference. Secondly, its none of your business what I do or dont do in or outside of my house.
Gee whiz, said Emma, bulging her cheeks at Hobbit Bob. Cranky Pants McGee over there.
The Boy didnt love Halloween, but he didnt exactly loathe Halloween, either. Halloweenthe secreted cobwebs, superfluous decorations, and pillowcase ghostswas just a day you could hide from the world and paper the cracks. Most people did that anyway, most of the time, but it was nice to know that at least one day of the year it was perfectly acceptable to pretend to be something you were not. He fell into one of the deep sofa chairs with the overstuffed pillows, turning to one side, kicking his feet up on the ottoman, letting his eyes rest on the muted television screen which showed some teenagers from the 70s being chased around the woods by a ridiculous-looking psychopath who was able to thin the herd despite a heavily pronounced limp. The Boys yawn extended into a feline stretch as he watched the massacre on screen. He was still trying to wake up, still trying to make a successful reentry into this world after smoking a bunch of pot by himself a few hours earlier which naturally led to getting transcendentally high and passing out on his bed next to a hardcore pornographic magazine. Sometimes it was like falling asleep in the middle of a nice painting. Sometimes it was something else. Every ringing phone was the sound of the world ending. All the knocks were the apocalypse at the door. But now he felt cold and detached as the temporal world laggardly shifted itself back into comfortable, recognizable patterns. After a while, he went back upstairs to put his costume onred leggings, red horns, giant red wings that clipped over his own like one of those paper dolls with the folding tabs. A quick glance in the mirror confirmed something for him. The Boy didnt need a costume for tonight. Christ. He already looked like a heretic who just pulled a fiver in the Tower of London.
Damnhe wasnt even eighteen yet, not yet, not for a few more months. He had heard of some seniors at his school who were already popping Viagra and squirting Rogaine all over their heads. Freshman girls were lining up for lipo and tying tubes on Tuesdays after French class. When did getting old start so young? He still had time. He thought he still had time. Someday, someday, he was really going to bring it all together: the diet, the resistance training, the cardio, the sleep, the laydeez. Then he could be with his blonde chick in the red convertible that was the color of a dripping apple. Thats all he wanted. Thats all he needed, really. Some people had lots of blonde chicks and lots of convertibles and he didnt have one blonde chick or one convertible, anywhere. So he knew he wasnt asking for the world. And then maybe going to the post office wouldnt take so much out of him. Standing in a grocery line wouldnt make him wish he could jump off of a tall building. Already the blonde chick in the convertible from the other day was starting to bleed into all the other fantasy girls hed crossed paths with in hair salons and food courts and grocery store lines and movie theatres and soon ... soon she would become just another pool of erotic blonde girl fantasy blood like the rest. Sometimes he had doubts about whether people were real when they were out of his sight. He imagined that after he passed strangers on the street they folded up like treadmills as soon as he turned the corner. Maybe thats what we were. We were just each others treadmills.
After closing the door again, Emmastill wearing her costumewandered into the formal beer pong room, a recent addition to the house because moments earlier it had been a formal dining room, but white towels were now placed over the carpet and the table had been cleared off so that two triangles of red plastic Solo cups could be stacked at both ends.
Can I play?
The Boy looked at her without responding and then went back to pouring the light beer up to the lines. A great warmness began to settle throughout his body from the three cans of beer he had recently shot-gunned by himself in the garage. I thought you were dressing up as a cheeseburger for Halloween?
She walked around the table, standing next to him, poking her nosey little white face over some of the cups. Um, pretty much decided to be a fairy princess instead. It even came with a magical wand. Um, basically, I might wear this costume forever, because that's how much I love it. Then I can flutter around like you now, B-Wing!
Dont call me that, he told her.
Then I can play?
Ill think about it.
You know, not to pull rank, but Im actually older than you.
My house. My rules. I get to decide who plays beer pong.
Im playing, said the fairy princess, resolutely.