At that age we took our fascination in the lot of the adult world. Through the peers we put to turmoil – musky boys of brashness or slighted vigor, and the balmy girls, the sweet or mousy, the striving harlequins – we accessed the quiet amblings of their mothers and their fathers. Stoked hotly on the fuel of drink, these men and women let splash those pointed, woeful details of a life and its doings, taking our silence to be sheer incomprehension – done as if to sounding boards or cloud-addled therapists, or to motivate the face in the bedroom mirror. But we listened keenly, and from this bit-by-bit unveiling assembled vast patchwork mythologies, craggy pilings of refuse-bits and off-tone detritus. These occupied our harder thoughts, and gave to our world a lofty, pinchbeck centerpiece.
But our edifice was achingly crooked, and dealt our view of life a harmful pivot: so that all things had a grayless clarity, with a light too sharp in some places and a deep of blackness in others.
Yesterday’s paper read: “Penelope Beatrice (Fare) Holloway died on Tuesday night of ovarian cancer at age 67. She is survived by her husband, Quincy Q. Holloway, and their daughter, Megan Holloway. A noontime Mass will be celebrated on Friday at St. Benedict’s Church. Internment will follow at the Mt. Zion Cemetery, Portharbor, NY. Family may greet friends at the Blowser Funeral Home…”
Etc., etc., etc.
I should say first that our parents had a bleary disinterest in our interior lives, with no appreciable eye for those subtle, injurious events that breach a child’s mind and preside surreptitiously over its development. Instead, they thought of us as mere trajectories, supposing we’d incorporate only what was told to us or given directly: so that they had no knowledge of our moment-to-moment completeness, and did not suspect us prone to the seep of our surroundings – which was a type of osmosis we chased after, in reality, and drummed up actively on our own.
Of our parents, Finn’s bore the vastest culpability; for they left us in that hulking place of empty rooms and lightless corridors, hosts to our most harmful, sponge-like times.
Finn, Miles and Wezler were all fourteen, while I myself was only thirteen years of age.
Typically when we arrived at Finn’s we bivouacked upon the lower floors. We tossed our shoes along the hallway, and cobbled together a small cairn of backpacks and coats to block the basement door. If his parents were home, we merely threw ourselves to arguing, or huddled roughly around Finn as he passed hours playing video games. But on certain nights – nights of harsh, lonesome winds, when the place was empty save for us – we wandered the house itself, scheming banditry to the wine cellar, setting fire to his mother’s throws and silks on the patio in the backyard.
On these nights, too, we played explorers, and ransacked the house for his mother’s various stashes of pills. These were a queer hodgepodge of capsules and pain-killers, sedatives and herbal remedies, of heady vitamins, anti-histamines and adrenaline needles, prismatic and variegated and all clamoring up a loud salvific chaos that, in retrospect, evoked snake-oil peddlers and the knell of their rickshaw apothecaries.
And I remember one day we found the river mouth – a deep box of lengthy red plastic – stuffed into the linen closet of a guest bedroom. This room was all trickled lace and doilies, an ailing, needle-thin space of tight damp walls that seemed clasped in some awful bodily fit, as if retching for air or laboring to shed dull spirals of its wallpaper. Its bed was set against the far-back wall, a cumbersome, steel-framed lug that, while finely done up, retained an air of yellow sterility, as if prepared years back for a guest who never arrived. And so it was counterintuitive to think how often the bed was actually lived in, and how often it endured his mother’s raw outpourings of humanity: Lila all sobs and trembles, damp in the face, choking down the sharp gnaw of whatever spat or struggle had, earlier in the night, caused her to take up her pillow and flee from her husband.
On the night we found the bulk of the pills here, in this bedroom, Finn let out a sad guffaw, and a cloudiness took over his face; and he softly asked, Can you fucking believe it? Without regard to any of us, he strode unspeaking into the adjacent bathroom, halting at the toilet; and with a stare of stern comprehension – accepting and sorrowful, as if beholding the wreckage of an altar – Finn commenced to flush, bottle by bottle, the whole of this woman’s damning, medicinal potpourri. When he finished, he placed the empty bottles on the bed, and left the lights in the room tweaked to a glaring pitch of whiteness.
He did, however, save six compact, baby-blue pills, little opiate ditties, that we split up between the four of us – one to me, one to Miles, one to Wezler, three to Finn – and chased back with pilfered swigs of wine on the night that Finn, straddling the tub of the selfsame bathroom, conducted our friends in the launching of the bags.
That was a night of joys and ruddy lusts, with wobbly bevies of boys roving and ripped on thimblefuls of alcohol, gobbling up liquors, all hankering to grope at that downy, pubescent element among us – the girls with the gumdrop tits, dimple-pinch cute and with faces lathered in rouge, who, in light of the things confided of them (for they had too-known lives, and were the reliable stuff of rumor mongering), became more than the girlish mugs of sloppy cosmetics, and instead assumed a prophetic quality – something like the visage of Moses, which was bronzed in its proximity to God. For these girls were creatures with truly awakened sexualities, provoked by so many tempests to do things and have things done to them that we – with our pimples and scabrous parts and poly-timbre voices – could not even begin to put words to, but merely conceive of incompletely, in half-ideas and dim imaginings, with sweat on the brow and a hand laboring along in the pant pocket. These girls denied all advances, preferring the older boys instead.
Apart from them were the quainter girls, with ponytails and glittering lips, who were still panicky in matters of sex; Megan Holloway was of this latter group.
At an unknown point in the night someone took the raw meats from the freezer and dumped them in a bathroom on the main floor, so that there was spoiled beef in the sink and toilet, and red flesh and animal juices all over the floor and staining the walls. When the party was tiring out – and when there was just a small contingent of us left, assembled on the trampoline and talking of pornography – two boys alerted Finn to the state of the bathroom. Furious and drunk, Finn marshaled them up the stairs to his mother’s guest bathroom. He gave them plastic bags, and said to fill the bags with shampoo and water and hair remover.
At the time, I was among those on the trampoline. Miles was occupied on the aches of Lila’s pill, ordering me with a wide dopey glower to rock myself along with him.
We’re on the cruise-ship, he declared. We’re on a seesaw.
Beyond him was Megan, studying the back of his head.
There was then a loud burst of soppy wetness, which gave off a flowery odor and a sharpness that dealt pain to the eyes. We scattered, craning our necks for a source. And then Finn appeared in the high up window, shirtless and drooling, whipping his body around and signing threats to us with his bare arms. His voice sounded tear-clamped, and he told us:
Get the fuck out of my house! Get the fuck out of my house!
The two boys started throwing more bags; we writhed needlessly under the assault, too far from sober to produce a fit response.
Why? Finn! I cried out.
Get the fuck out of my house!
Tell us and we’ll go!
Finn then quieted, swaying in his shoulders, and tripped down from the bathtub to lean out the window.
You fuckers disgraced my house.
You see my bathroom? He flung his arms around. There’s animal flesh all over my fucking bathroom!
What? It wasn’t us!
It wasn’t us!
And they launched more bags at us. I watched them fall through their shoddy arcs, formless, light-scattering things that frothed grandly and blasted upon impact. And then Miles collapsed, taken up with strange motions and sobbing for his addled sight. I’m drowning! he hollered. I’m blind! Megan scampered to comfort him, but in swiping her away, Miles knocked her off the trampoline. She gave an awful squeal, and picked herself up to run inside. The boys nailed her with a bag on the way, and gave forth a horrible cackle.
Stop it! I shouted again. We didn’t do it! Finn, I swear to God! I stumbled off the trampoline, throwing my arms in the air, and said:
Finn, I swear it, we were here all night, we didn’t do it!
There was an anguished pause.
Swear? he asked.
We didn’t do it.
Finn came grimly to the window, his face stern and tinged with redness about the eyes. He inhaled severely, lingering on the sight of us: I with palms upheld hopefully, my hair damp and matted, the lifted bottom of my shirt disclosing a lip of belly fat; and those few on the trampoline, damp and furious, sprawled prone or crawling along sore hands and knees, cursing him plainly, audibly.
Fucking dick, moaned one.
Oh fuck me, said the other.
With an evident, mangled pain, Finn tried to grin.
I was just kidding, he said brokenly.
Fuck you, asshole, someone said. Finn fell silent. His face twitched abruptly. He said;
It was a joke.
Fucking douche, another.
Finn withdrew his head from the window. He said, It was a joke! A joke! From his abdomen, he rent a loud, hollow laugh.
Fuck you! said a third.
Suddenly from within we heard a loud crash, and Finn hopped down from his perch and set off scrambling through the house, and we heard him cawing and yowling, landing with swift loud thuds down the stairs, and the side-door flung open and there was Finn, a roaring sadness in the eyes, careening at me with a bag in one hand and an empty wine bottle in the other. I was fucking around, he stammered, I’m just fucking around. He leapt hapless, nearly tumbling, and with a swift thud felled the two of us. Howling, quaking in the shoulders, he shattered the bag across my back.
He appealed to the few on the trampoline. Right? he said. Right?
Collapsed into myself, retching from the sting, I saw that all above beheld him, mutely and with a look of vast revulsion. Finn then tried to laugh, and it was labored, timid. “Right?” he asked again, laughing. I saw the bottle shaking, I heard a tremor in his voice.
So I began to laugh, as hard as I could, and I laughed loudly and Finn then laughed along with me, earnestly, desperately, and then on the trampoline the ones soaked to threads with hair remover and shampoo, they began to laugh too, until all were possessed, ensnared in a vast unruly hilarity, and newly innervated Finn took a few steps back, and paused, and grinning hugely he raised the empty wine bottle aloft; and then, with ceremonial zeal, as if priest or functionary to a disappeared faith, he heaved the bottle onto the neighbor’s driveway.
It struck loudly and burst, shattering into so many shards of glass. Immediately, the lights shot on above the neighbor’s garage. We tensed up, held our breath, stared. Just as swiftly, they went off. For they were motions sensors, soft and light, briefly triggered: as if watchfulness is an act done purely for show, to say that someone’s looking, but no one really ever is.
I only later found out that Finn’s parents had been home, upstairs, sleeping sweetly the whole time.
At a point far later into the evening, with everyone panting, everyone wet, and when the trampoline held, to the best of my memory: myself, Finn, Miles, Thrum, Tom and Amory –
Now Amory was reclined absently with her two legs tucked underneath her, a girl with soft features and unfurled, bushy tresses. She bounced her fingers, with swing, out along the trampoline in front of her, then smoothly flicked her wrist and indicated Finn.
Aren’t you cold?
He had his legs dropped out in front of him, shirtless and heaved over in his back and fingering his up-laid palms.
No. I’m not wet, idiot.
She squeaked gaily. Tom knocked Finn roughly on the arm, he said:
Yeah but we all are, dickhead, thanks to this dickhead. He tucked Finn’s head into his arm, glib and tousling
him up in horseplay. Thank this dickhead right here!
Amory grimaced loudly. Boys are so violent, she said.
Tom released Finn, with swats and guffaws, and glommed onto the topic.
Boys are so violent, he mimicked, impishly flicking his wrists and his voice high in his nose – and then hankered down on all fours and said at her: boys are so violent because we’re horny.
We’re all too young to be horny.
Finn turned to Amory.
You want to pretend you don’t think about sex?
No, she’s knows a little, right Amory? You know a little about it, he said, nudging and winking and all.
How’s your boyfriend, asked Finn. She traced a finger along her thigh.
We broke up.
I’m sorry, I said.
It’s okay. She sighed. My friends are unfair to you guys. It’s hard at your age. They like older boys. You’re just not – there yet, you know?
We all smiled awkwardly.
But I mean; it’s no reason to dismiss you guys entirely.
You guys can feel them, if you want to.
Amory lifted her shirt away from her, so that she bore her nugget of a belly button and made at her bosom ample room for hands and arms. We approached cautiously, all bated breath and aching, and Tom put his hand up there first; and then Finn, briefly, and withdrew it – and Tom approached again, and Miles and Thurm and myself fell upon her, moving like some shambling, multi-limbed, vituperate beast, sloppy and groping, with great dumb smiles and hard-ons.
All of a sudden she screamed: loudly, once, and then again, continually. We stumbled back, and saw: Amory prone, shirt torn up to her neck, pinned down by furious Miles, groping and pattering and his leg twitching uncontrollably. We were struck, horrified. Finally, Finn hurled himself at Miles and knocked him off the trampoline. Miles fell hard, biting his lip so that it trickled blood.
Shit, he muttered.
We sat breathing heavily, all hidden arousal and terror. Finn gestured to Miles, who denied his hand and stood up to go indoors.
For a long time we sat unspeaking. To break the silence, Finn lunged at me and we began wrestling. Finally all trailed off home, and Amory fell asleep upon Finn’s chest.
Fuckin’ bitch, he whispered. How am I going to get up?
Just move her, I said. He blushed, gave a puttering explanation, all bravado and excuses. I left him there smiling, and went inside. In the basement, tucked into the stairwell wall, I found Miles, sloppily jamming his tongue in Megan’s mouth. Miles and I exchanged glances, and I went home.