Nothing Interesting Ever Happens Here
The boys pedal hard over the rocky, craggy path that leads to the Franklin river. The bike frames rattle at each drop-off between the stones. The boys are young teenagers. Thirteen and fourteen years old. Both of their bicycles are deep-sea blue, and in the spokes of one of the bicycles is a baseball card attached by a clothes’ pin. The larger of the boys leads the way. His cheeks puff with each pump of the pedal and his body is heavy as he leans from one side to the other, navigating the rough terrain to water.
The other boy is smaller. He has brilliant red hair that is muffled beneath a stocking cap, frays of the fire sticking out over his ears, escaping from beneath the wool. He rides at a slower pace; with one hand on the handlebars, he steers gingerly, carefully. His legs are slight, and he pedals with precision, each thrust of his leg made to carry him the farthest distance with the least effort.
* * *
Their bikes are slumped over, the pedals sinking into the soft, damp mud along the banks of the river. The water is cold. The air they breathe is cold. Steam escapes from their mouths as they glare at the shaking sack that they have dropped onto the ground. The sack is an old Gold Medallion flour bag, tied at the top by some red baling twine. The larger boy picks up the bag. A great gust of that icy smoke pokes out from his throat.
He says, Look at them squirm, Cal. It’s like they already know.
Yeah, it does look that way. It’s freezing out here. How long you think they’ll last?
Not very long, the large boy says. If anything, they won’t have to struggle too hard. Either the cold or the rocks will get them. Maybe both.
We’ll see then.
* * *
With a heave, the two boys throw the old, tan sack into the water of the river, rushing quickly downstream. Soon there will be chunks of ice in the river, transparent torpedoes sunk beneath the current, traveling quickly towards their target. The mews coming from the bag are barely audible as they bob with the foaming white waves.
The boys run along the bank, chasing the bobbing bag.
Do you think they’re still alive? The smaller boy asks.
I don’t know. I think I can still hear them.
The boys pause, their mouths silent. The only sounds they can hear are the slow groans of the branches of tree limbs along the bank, old brittle bones—arthritic when the cold comes. They both listen, and watch as the bag makes its way towards a mass of coagulated rocks. Jagged points breaking from under the water, great gray smokestacks, waiting with open mouths to be fed.
The flour sack crashes against the weathered stones, smooth from the many years of being rubbed by the waves lapping against their surface. There are no mews, no shaking of the sack as it slumps down beneath the foam of the river.
* * *
The boys gather their bikes and pedal away from the river. The bigger boy pedals hard uphill, over the stones. Both hands of the smaller boy clamp the handlebars as he navigates towards home. His stocking cap flapping in the wind as he maneuvers himself with style over the jagged-shards of the path. He rides wheelies, slamming his front wheel down with authority. And each pump of his foot is made with precision, to carry him the farthest distance with the least effort.
“Did you find anything out?” Cyndy asks Jarred.
“Yeah, it’s more expensive than what we thought.”
Cyndy can feel heart sinking into her chest. It reminds her of the time she saw her mother throwing away the lumps of fat she cut off the roast. Their slimy, bloody chunks clinging to the side of the waste basket before sliding down the insides of the can, leaving a red streak. This is the way she feels now. Like her heart has been thrust against her ribcage, just the cut-off parts of a roast—the parts that no one wants to eat. She can feel it sliding down each rib, the organ arching and curving against the bones and their gaps.
She looks at Jarred. This hasn’t been easy for him either. He hasn’t been sleeping. His face is starting to grow stubbly with hair. He can really grow more of a beard than I thought, Cyndy thinks. His eyes look like two seashells gleaming from deep, dark wells. He hasn’t been sleeping.
“What are we going to do?” Cyndy asks.
Her body slumps against her school locker. For a minute she considers sliding down the side of it, wondering whether her body will leave a red streak, just like the lumps of fat left in the waste basket. The halls are crowded. This is no time to give up the ghost. To either lunge into Jarred’s arms and bury her face into his shoulder blades and let loose the waterworks for the mistake they have made; or, to slap the piss out of Jarred for his neglect, for his forgetfulness in the times that really matter most.
“I don’t know, babe. I really don’t know. I checked my savings account this morning. I’ve only got a hundred and fifty in saving bonds. My grandma would kill me if she found out I took them.”
* * *
Jarred looks defeated. He runs his hands through his hair, promptly wiping away the grease onto the legs of his jeans. It’s true, he thinks, they really do glow when they get like this. Even at her worst, Cyndy is still beautiful. Easily, the prettiest girl in the whole town, maybe even the county. He wants to kiss her. He wants to put his lips against her lips, thinking, maybe it will keep her from crying. That maybe, if you kiss someone hard enough, all the rest of the world will go black, and you can only see in front of you, and that all Cyndy would be able to see was him kissing her, loving her, reveling in just how beautiful she is, and pretending not to see how she glows.
* * *
“Can you borrow any money?” Cyndy asks.
“From who? I don’t have anybody that I can ask without them asking what for.” Jarred scratches his ear, and thinks about giving Cyndy a smile. “What about your Uncle Don? Didn’t he used to give your sister a bunch of money for cleaning his house?”
Cyndy pauses before answering. She knows better than to believe what her sister told her about working for Uncle Don. “It’s really good money,” she used to say. “And it’s really easy work.” But Cyndy knows better. She knew better when her sister would come home from working with Uncle Don and eat her dinner in her room. And then the next morning, when her mother would try to hug her before school, she would shiver like she was seeing a ghost as the arms wrapped around her.
“Uncle Don?” Cyndy asks, the image of her shivering sister dancing behind her eyelids.
“Yeah, didn’t you used to say that he payed your sister a ton just to clean up his house?”
“Yeah…but…I’d really have to think about it, Jarred.”
“What’s to think about? It may be our only chance to get this taken care of. We don’t have much time left.”
The class bell rang.
“Well, whatever you choose to do, I love you, babe,” Jarred says, leaning over and kissing Cyndy hard. Maybe everything will go black. He closes his eyes as he kisses her. He opens them, and she still glows.
“I love you, too.”
* * *
At home, Cyndy dumps her backpack onto the floor next to her bed and looks at her telephone. She thinks about her sister, locked up in her bedroom, the soft moan of the Smiths droning through the walls on the nights after cleaning Uncle Don’s. Suffer little children.
She feels her stomach and thinks of Jarred. Thinks of his dark, bagged eyes; his stubble growing thicker and thicker with every night that passes. He hasn’t been sleeping. How will the rest of their lives be, she thinks, if she doesn’t call? Everything will have to stop. The world will have to go black and it would only be the three of them. The three of them making their way alone. How will a boy with only saving bonds and a grandmother support the three of them?
* * *
“Uncle Don?” Cyndy asks the voice on the other end of the line.
“Yes. Who’s this?”
“It’s Cyndy, your niece. Can you pay me to clean your house? You know, like you did for my sister?”
Cyndy hears the man’s breathing getting heavier on the other end.
“The one with the blonde hair?” he asks.
“Yes,” Cyndy answers.
“Come by tomorrow. Be ready to clean.” He coughs, and Cyndy can hear a soft chuckle beneath even heavier breathing.
She hangs up, and presses her hands to her belly. This is for all of us. For the three of us.
The Cost of Pretty
Juan stares into the mirror and presses the ice pack onto his groin. He looks at all the tools spread out across the bathroom sink: towels, scissors, tweezers, disinfectant, and a mound of gauze and cotton balls.
I’m going to be pretty, Juan thinks. The ice pack is cold and he can feel himself shrinking up tight down there. He tucks what is left out from the cold between his legs and appreciates himself in the mirror. This is the way it’s supposed to be, he thinks, as he marvels at his physique. His long, tan legs, thin, hairless, shaved everyday with his mother’s pink razor. He runs his free hand over his hips and across his bare buttocks. His hips are round and smooth. Childbearing, he thinks. Just like the girls in the magazines. He imagines his body looking like those of the girls the guys in gym class talk about. The petite, exotic girls with heavy breasts, with thin legs and long hair, sexually disproportionate, their tops too big to be carried by their birdlike lower bodies. Juan will be an improvement over these little vixens. He is built to carry a heavy bust. His legs are strong, but lean. His hips are the kind he can imagine men loving to grasp as they groan with pleasure and anxiety.
* * *
His groin has gone completely numb. Juan touches his face. You’re gonna be a star, baby. He picks up the scissors. He puts the stopper into the sink basin and fills it with hot water. Juan opens up some of the disinfectant and pours it into the water. The chemical stink that comes from the sink smells like a hospital, rigid and clean. He dips the scissors into the hot water, steam escaping in gasps from the broken surface where the blades have sunk in. He dunks the blades over and over. They must be clean. If an infection breaks out this will all be for naught.
He stretches it out with his free hand; the other grasping the pair of scissors, his fingers winding through the handle holes. A grin spreads across his face, his white teeth beaming bright against his dark skin. He brushes his hair away from his face, glad that he’s let it grow long as of late. The soft light of the vanity mirror gleams off the blades of the scissors as they start to grip the flesh. I’m going to be pretty, Juan thinks, and closes the open-mouthed blades.
Juan doesn’t feel anything, but he can see the rivers of red pouring from between his thighs, pooling around his bare feet. More blood than he could have ever imagined is coming from between his legs. He starts to feel dizzy, and his vision blurs. The counter of the sink with all of his tools seems the length of the football field and his hands grope aimlessly over the top for something to slow the bleeding. Juan slumps to the floor and his vision goes dark. You’re gonna be a star, baby.
She wants to rub her arms to warm herself up, but she can’t. The rope around her wrists binds her hands behind her back. The young girl hears the crunch of the leaves underfoot, heavy crackles of poplars, maples, sycamores—the skin they shed before the snow comes. Everyone is silent, and she wishes she could see. The fabric around her eyes is too tight to even catch a peek; besides, it’s dark outside.
The girl wonders how many are out there with her. And who are they? She listens to their footsteps, but it’s impossible to count footfalls. The cold wind blows into her face; she licks her lips, hoping they won’t freeze.
Christ, it’s cold, she thinks.
* * *
They’ve been leading her through, what she believes to be, a wooded area for the better part of an hour. She was blindfolded from the start. As soon as she closed up the video store and walked outside, she was on the ground and something dark was pulled around her eyes. A car ride in silence.
“Where are you taking me?” the girl had asked her captors.
“Where are you taking me?” she had demanded again.
She can’t remember how long ago that car ride seemed. Hours maybe? It is late. Besides the sound of the crunching leaves, the girl hears nothing else. Occasionally, an owl will break up the silence and let out a wail.
* * *
The girl feels the ropes tightening around her waist and legs, binding her flat against the rock. The smell of campfire smoke billows into her nostrils, and she’s glad to feel some kind of heat. She’s been cold for far too long.
She starts to realize there are many with her. The girl hears the whispers, but the words are indecipherable. Latin? She thinks. Why didn’t I pay more attention in class last year? A hand rests on her forehead. Warm, inviting, sinister.
“Maiorem gloriam Luciferi,” a man’s voice croaks. She realizes that the voice belongs to the hand touching her face. Massaging the warmth back into her cheeks. “Vestra victum, submittite nos liberos.”
The hand raises from her face. The girl feels the cold racing back to her cheeks. She feels droplets fall onto her forehead. Not cool, but warm, fresh. A finger dips into the droplets and begins drawing on her face. “Sanguis porcos. Consecramus virgo sanguinem justum.”
A cup is presented to her mouth. “Here, drink, little one. Don’t fear. Receive this. Swallow,” a woman’s voice says. Calm. Motherly. Lilting.
“What is it?” the girl asks, her mouth on the edge of the cup, her words echoing through the chasm.
“Something to help you relax,” the woman’s voice assures her. “You’re a very special girl.”
* * *
The drink made her head spin. Even in darkness, she feels the world shifting beneath her. Her spine feels gelatinous, slimy and slithery inside of her back. Her flesh is warm, hot even. The ropes feel as if they are loosening. She can move, but she doesn’t want to. It’s too peaceful to move, she thinks. I just want to melt.
She feels the cool air bristling against her bare chest. Her nipples standing on end. More droplets spatter across her chest, and she feels the finger drawing between her breasts, over her belly. A hand lifts her waist, and the denim jeans slip away from her. They lower her, the cool stone damp against her buttocks.
“Do you know where you are?” the man’s voice asks the girl.
“Do you know why you are here?” he asks her.
“Are you uncomfortable?”
“You’re a very special girl, you know.”
“So I’ve heard.”
* * *
She can feel him sliding into her. Deep, long, but gentle strokes. Her head spins, grief and pleasure soak through her skin like rich oils. She can feel her skin breathing. Feel his whiskered cheek against her own, she moans and he moans.
“Laudate nomen non.”
“Laudate ceciderunt angeli.”
She hears the words, muffled and foreign, buzzing like peroxidized wounds.
“What are they saying?” she asks her lover.
“Just giving thanks. You’re a very special girl you know,” he answers, his voice mellow like gold, his hips working softly against her own.
“Thanks for what?” she asks between moans.
“You’re a very special girl.”
* * *
Her bed feels warm when she wakes up, soft and sleepy. She runs her hands through her loose blonde locks, slips on her gown and struts to the bathroom to wash up for school. It was just a dream, she thinks. She’s proud of her skin today, it’s reflection glows back at her in the vanity mirror. I’m a very special girl.