The architect who built Milo’s school looked at the sex-starved spirits who haunt the halls and mass-ordered salmon pink bricks. He worried that right angles would stress out the hordes of misty-eyed teens who pile in through the gates ev- ery morning at 8:30 and shaped all of the windows into hexagons. He said let’s build a moat – keep the kids away, that sort of a thing, the real world will stress them out.
Past the moat, in the inner courtyard, a car door opens. Milo adjusts the paisley bandana that holds back his porcupine hair. His wrists are loaded with Hipanema bracelets and grainy leather straps. He steps out without looking back.
Bye mom. Thanks for the ride.
Milo isn’t stressed yet. A few days in Amsterdam will do that to someone. He sunk some money into travelling that spring, took a train up to see the tulips and the canals, ditch the madre and smoke it up with his girlfriend at the time. They didn’t make it past the first few days there. They slept in a graffitied youth hostel with neon green walls and split a shoe- box room. Across the hall, a tall, bearded Austrian man with am- ber ear stretchers made loose leaf jasmine tea and the smell drifted through the door. He told stories of Ushuaia and rolled joints the way experts solve Rubik’s cubes. Milo had come back from a run to find his girl tangled in the man’s downy arms. That was that.
A pamphlet tacked to the door of his room advertised poffertjes and he stuffed it in his back pocket. He walked right out, sweat pooling in his pits, to soak in the noise of Leidseplein and to hit up the street saxophonists and inter- pretive dancers. But the thought of his girlfriend fucking that pretentious Austrian asshole kept him from focusing and he ambled up to a tall blonde listless chick in half-moon glasses and purple lipstick. She struck him as lopsided until he realized she just hunched left so that she wouldn’t be so much taller than him which mustmean she was into him and why the fuck wouldn’t he sleep with her?
He wound up buying her a canal-side cup of espresso. She had broad wrists and loose threads from her shirt held them like bracelets. The skin strained there, white and taut. He gathered her name was Djanu but she spat a little as she spoke in English so it could have been Jenny or something. She moved slowly, head cocked back in a way that said she didn’t want to get intimate, that she wouldn’t be whispering anything to him. She squared her shoulders as he leaned to her across the table. He touched her cheek and felt the fuzz there, thicker than he expected.
She led him home anyway. They took a noisy tram to a skin- ny building with dirty crooked windows, and they fucked on her bed just once. He lay there afterward looking at the gay pride flag that hung from the ceiling and vaguely wondered whether he might be bi and whether his friend Jess would kiss him just to check. Better not ask.
Milo came home early from break, sans girlfriend, but weighed down with ounces of prime Dutch weed. He answered all of his mom’s questions with a vacant smile, like yeah mom shit was good, I saw the Van Gogh you like. She worried about him and ruffled his eminently ruffleable hair every time he walked past her desk on his way to the fridge. She leaned back on her chair and watched him stick his head into the pantry, indecisive.
She drove him to school and defrosted mac & cheese and figured he’d be fine, his grades weren’t going to slip any lower anyway. Milo accepted the tea, the hair ruffling, and the rides to school, past the moat, to the salmon-pink hexagonal castle. Besides his mother, he didn’t talk to real human females. He just lay back, dick out, and let the ceiling roil.
Milo stepped through the gates. He looked around at the long faces and the backpacks already overflowing, and for a place to curl up, no stress yet, but in case things went to shit he’d like to know. But there weren’t any corners at this school, no place to hide, and he stared at the big bright hexa- gons in the walls and thought of Amsterdam, of the slow moving murky waters and the bicycle mountains on street corners and of the tall girls with apple-colored lips who had so much conviction it made him feel small. He gripped at his hair and turned around – bye mom – to wave one more time, but she was gone, and that was that.