from the novel Limiters
White lines are on the mirrored top of a long coffee table in the living room. All the raver boys and girls are sitting on the couch, heads bent, noses snorting, not one of them asking what drug they’re taking.
DJ Oskar, who’s supposedly a big deal right now, shows up. Wes, the older gay dude I’m living with these days, knows a lot of people, mainly because he’s generous with drugs and gets friends into parties for free—but as I learned when I first moved in, it can come with a special price. He walks me around introducing me to people, or points at me when I’m across the room. I see his gay friends patting him on the back and I try to ignore it, take a couple pills someone has given me, and dance to the hardcore house DJ Oskar spins. But then I trip over some guy sitting cross-legged on the floor and fall over, landing on my side. No one asks if I’m okay, and I don’t get up. Turning my head, I see Wes leading a boy who looks about 11 or 12 into the strobe-lit bedroom, a couple of the gay guys following and shutting the door behind them. The guy I’ve landed on nudges me. He doesn’t say anything, just pokes me a couple more times till I look up.
“Paul,” I say, recognizing him from school.
“Kyle Mason,” he says with a smile. “You look fucked up.”
“Aren’t you?” I ask, laughing uneasily.
“Just a little drunk. Everybody at school is talking about you, you know.”
“Uh yeah, dude. Your brother died just a couple years ago, and now you’ve bounced and you’re mom met with—”
“Wait, my mom?”
“Yeah, she came to the school and talked to everyone. She was showing your photo around, asking if anyone seen you.”
The chemically induced fun I was just having has morphed into nausea and a desperate need to vomit. I rush to the thankfully unoccupied bathroom to puke. I don’t know if it’s the drugs I’ve taken or the surprising news, but whatever it is, it’s making me spew chewed-up cereal, beer and bile. I keep heaving, but nothing else comes out. The hallucinating effects of the drugs kick in. I imagine myself as a skeleton covered with just a thin layer of skin, no blood underneath, the blood is gone, and there are no organs except for the heart, which doesn’t work anymore. It’s like a sun-dried tomato. But I bet it’s still a little moist, has a few drops of juice left, just enough for me to squish it. Nudge. Knock.
The door knocks, not really the door. Paul’s knocking, insisting on coming in. He doesn’t ask if I’m okay, just closes the door and sits on the edge of the tub, staring at me like I’m a new pet. Sticking my head in the sink, I open my mouth under the running water while examining him: his chubby cheeks, nice puffy lips, thin body, big clear eyes, their color I’m unsure of because it’s too dark in here; Wes replaced the regular bulb with a red one.
Paul’s always been part of the alternative crowd at school. Everyone thinks he’s a weirdo, but he’s hot so he gets away with it. Last I knew he was dating Courtney, one of the prettiest cheerleaders at Harding. He looked strange next to her, with his septum ring and baggy pants, dark clothing and dirty hair. I’ve always liked him, though. Not that we’ve ever spoken before tonight, but I’m not surprised he knows who I am; everyone knows me as Max’s little brother.
“So Mason, what are you doing all the way up here, and at Wesley’s no less?” I don’t answer right away because I’m busy envisioning my mom at our school, wondering how my old friend Fiona reacted to her speaking to the class.
Fiona. That fat bitch. She’s white but acts black, has her hair dyed black and pulled so tightly into a ponytail it’s as if she had a premature facelift. We were best friends, but that all ended on Rose Day at school. It’d ended well before that, actually. Whenever I’d say no to doing something with her or for her, she’d retaliate in some way. She was a big girl—and I mean huge—so it was good having her as an ally. Everyone was scared of her, and if anyone had fucked with me, she’d have fucked them up. But our so-called friendship came with a price, and when I told her I didn’t want to be her errand boy anymore, I found out just how much. She cut me off completely, sealing the deal on Rose Day, a yearly event at our school when you secretly buy a rose for someone and they find out it’s you once they get it with a little note attached. The girls get the majority of the roses, the prettiest chicks competing for who has the most. It’s dumb. Fiona sent a rose to Ben, one of the most popular guys in our class who’d always said hi to me out of respect for Max, at least until he got the rose—the rose that Fiona had sent but signed my name. Ben no longer said hi to me. He and his friends would look at me across the parking lot and laugh. They wouldn’t beat me up, at least not while my brother’s friends were seniors. Maybe if I had stayed in school this year they’d have messed with me more—another good reason not to go home.
“I don’t know,” I say to Paul. “No one really cares, other than not having Rose Boy around.”
“Oh c’mon, dude,” he says, shrugging. “Everybody knows that Fiona chick sent the rose. She transferred to another school by the way.” It feels good to hear someone say they know the truth. I never took the time to deny the rumors, just let everyone believe what they wanted.
“Then why did all the guys talk shit?”
“Because you’re beautiful, and it makes them uncomfortable,” he says, looking me in the eye. A warm teddy bear hugs my stomach.
“Yeah right,” I say, touching my swollen cheek.
“You remind me of a monkey,” he says. “That’s why I love Courtney so much. I have a thing for monkeys.” I don’t know what that means, but the word “beautiful” sticks in my mind.
I’ve always just assumed I was ugly. Especially my nose. It’s too big, which is why I always sit in the backseat if there are other people in the car besides the driver. When I have to sit up front and there are people in back, I ride the whole trip with my chin resting on my left hand, the palm of it covering the side of my nose, so no one can see my profile.
There are monkeys in Paul’s hair. Jumping out of his greasy curls, they grab onto the shower curtain, hopping from one flower print to another till reaching the top, swinging off the rod and diving into the darkness behind the curtain. Paul is waving his hand in my face.
“Whoa, I’m tripping,” I mumble. He cups my face in his hands.
“It’s okay, dude,” he says, pressing his lips onto mine and opening our mouths.
It’s my first kiss. I mean, I had another first kiss, but it didn’t feel like this. I was thirteen, my girlfriend sixteen. It was this girl Amanda, a slut who’d done sex videos for money with the creepy crippled guy who lived next door to my mom’s; at least those were the rumors. She never fessed up, though. But regardless, she was a lot of fun—a crazy alcoholic drug whore everyone liked to be around. We made out in my basement a few months after Max died. She tasted like cigarettes. I had my hand up her shirt, my pointer finger tracing circles around her hard nipples, but I pulled back when she went down my pants, and she left in a huff. I lay in bed feeling like a failure, waiting to hear from her. Eventually, she called me that night. I heard a boy laughing in the background.
“Kyyyllle,” she taunted. “I’m about to suck some cock.”
“Why are you doing this to me!” I yelled into the phone.
“I’m not. You did!” she said, hanging up in my face. This moment with Paul feels nothing like that, and I have no reservations. It’s my hand that’s creeping toward his crotch, and he’s the one stopping it. Pulling back, he licks his lips.
“Mm, vomit,” he says. Turning red, I cover my mouth with my hands and race back to the sink to rinse more, this time using toothpaste. He laughs out loud. “I’m only joking, dude. Can’t taste anything.”
Courtney comes to mind. She whips open the bathroom door, throws a disapproving look at him and eyes me with disgust. “What are you two doing in here? I knew it was true, Rose Boy! I’m telling everyone.” But she’s not really here. I ask him about her.
“I’m still with her, sort of, but kind of sick of it. Guess I just want to take a break for awhile…maybe chill with you again.”
“Yeah, I’m down,” I say, smiling. He stands, helping me to my feet. A line of frustrated partiers greets us when we open the bathroom door. Glancing at the clock on the wall, I realize it’s already after 6 a.m. The party is dying down. DJ Oskar’s gone. A mix tape is playing loudly from Wes’ expensive-looking stereo system. Paul’s holding my hand, guiding me toward the front door. “Wait, where are we going?”
“To my house,” he says. “You shouldn’t stay here.” He lives in Stratford, just one town over from my mom’s.
“What about your parents?”
“It’s just my dad and he doesn’t give a shit.”
“I don’t know.”
I hear loud banging noises coming from the bedroom, deep voices laughing, see the strobe light flashing underneath the door like someone’s in there getting electroshock treatments. Maybe it’s supposed to be this way. Maybe Paul came here to save me. The smoky loft, the ravers walking through the living room like lost souls, the demons in the bedroom torturing a child, Paul is a saint, an angel, and we fly away so quickly, drive away in his beat-up Toyota pickup so hastily, I forget my visor and bag of clothes.
* * *
The burning ash on the tip of the cigarette I’m holding matches the color of the rising sun reflected in the passenger-side mirror. There’s no one in the backseat so no need to hide my profile, but I sit sideways anyway in case Paul looks over. I need to remain the beautiful monkey in his eyes. My own eyes get heavy, I fall asleep.
* * *
I wake up to Paul screaming. We’re swerving all over the highway, horns from other cars honking. At first I think it’s ice on the road, but when I see smoke rising off his leg, a small fire on his jeans, I quickly realize my cigarette is the cause of the commotion; I must’ve dropped it when I nodded off. He pulls over in the emergency lane, runs from the car at lightning speed and jumps in a pile of leftover snow. I open my door and walk over, groggily. The hallucinating part of my trip is almost over, but I still feel dazed. He gives me an unhappy look as he stands, the hole in his jeans about the size of a tennis ball, so close to the crotch I can see through to his hairy thigh and the bulge in his tight white underwear.
“Sorry,” I say, unable to stop staring. I walk over to inspect the damage and check for burns. He steps back, doesn’t seem to want my hand near his dick. He says he’s fine, it only hurts a little, he just wants to get some sleep. As we walk back to the truck he throws his arm over my shoulder like a brother, chuckling a bit.
“These were my favorite jeans, dude!” he says, opening the door. I notice they’re just as dirty as mine, bet the oiliness helped ignite the fire. If I ever pulled something like this at home, my stepfther would’ve ripped me a new one. I’m Paul’s monkey, and his forgiveness makes me never want to go back.
* * *
The freezing wind coming off the water in Long Island Sound hits me in the face as we make our way from Paul’s truck to his family’s tiny beach house. It’s so small, basically a shack, reminds me of one of those hotdog stands on the beach in summer. Inside, the house is messy, but not dirty, just cluttered, which is to be expected considering how small it is.
His father’s sitting on the couch smoking a pipe. He looks like a drunk: fat, unshaven and cranky. He grumbles something at Paul who introduces him as Frank.
Frank stands, tipping an imaginary hat. “Seasons greetings. I’m going to bed,” he says, walking toward a room in the back of the house and shutting the door.
“Looks like he’s just getting home from a night of partying too,” I say. “Where’s your room?”
Paul points to the couch in the almost nonexistent living room, which is barely big enough to fit the loveseat and 13-inch TV in it. “Frank and I take turns in the bedroom, but I usually just let him have it. I like it out here.” He collapses on the laundry-covered couch, pats a cushion beside him. “C’mon, Mason. Let’s just sleep.”
Nervously, I sit down next to him. I’ve never slept so close to anyone, just those times when my old best friend and I played that pretend-rape game and I got my first hard-ons, but after we’d finished playing, he would always move a few feet away to sleep on his own. Grabbing me by the waist, Paul pulls me down, draping his right arm over me. He falls asleep and starts snoring almost immediately. With Frank’s loud wheezing in the bedroom, it sounds like they’re singing me a lullaby, or maybe I’m still high. “Whatever,” I whisper to myself, feeling safe and content for the first time since Max died.
Christopher Stoddard is the Brooklyn-based author of the novels Limiters and White, Christian. White, Christian was chosen by the American Library Association for their 2012 list of commendable LGBT literature. His writing has also been published by Lambda Literary and Go Deeper Press. In December 2012, he and artist Gio Black Peter released the limited edition literary/arts magazine, Satanica.
Copyright © 2014 by Christopher Stoddard.
Reprinted by permission of the author