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|Publisher:||Open Road Media|
|Product dimensions:||5.25(w) x 8.00(h) x (d)|
|Age Range:||16 Years|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
This is not a story about how to do what I did and survive, and be free. I'm not free. In many of the millions of futures that tumbled forth, that are still rolling and twisting ahead out to the ends of the world since that day, I'm not even alive. She is though, at the end of every strand of fate, tugging on the fabric of life and laughing.
I just happen to think she's laughing with me, not at me. I hope so. I love her. This is the story of my love for her. It's a story that I like to tell from the bottom of a little plastic cup.
* * *
Tussin. If they only wanted you to take two tablespoons, why would a bottle of the stuff come with a plastic cup that can hold eight? Half a bottle before school, but David Holbrook still uses the little cup instead of just taking a swig out of the bottle. One, ugh, two, blech, three. Okay, then a fourth. Then a big handful of Coricidin HBP. It wouldn't look like Skittles if they weren't supposed to be eaten by the handful. To the mirror, Mr. Holbrook, he thinks. David liked thinking of himself as Mr. Holbrook. He wished he attended an uptight boarding school like on TV, where the teachers called the students Mr. Thomason and Mr. Smythe and the older boys who tortured the freshmen with wristlocks and spittle and the Greek alphabet gave everyone clever nicknames: Foggy, Banger, Lilliput.
David's actual nickname at school is "Hey Fag." When he thinks of himself in casual terms, he's Dave.
Five. Yuck. Six. Water, water. Seven. Gah. Grape-mediciny. Robotrippin'.
To the mirror, Mr. Holbrook.
Dave looks into the mirror. He can't take himself all in at once, not with the drugs still gurgling in his stomach, and not yet completely bathing his brain, but he can look. Two eyes, brown. Red creases like a brand, where his eyeglasses rest on his nose. Hair, too much of it, piled on his head — not long like a dirtbag kid — just thick and wide and untamable. A shoulder, fertile with acne. The crease of a collarbone, hard like the end of a sentence. Streaks of ribs under skin where his pecs should be. That's enough for now.
Dave flows down the steps, past the empty living room and into the kitchen. His mother sits at the table, somewhat preoccupied by the buzz and flicker of the little black and white TV. "Dave," she says, "Dave. Good morning."
She sighs chemically. "Do you want breakfast? I can make you some," to the TV — the weather will be fine, the traffic is fine — "breakfast. You don't want any breakfast?" Dave's stomach gurgles, all grape and trouble. "It's okay."
"Yeah, it's okay." She rises and tries a half smile. "I'm a little tired, out of sorts, you know. I think I'll get some rest. I'll cook you breakfast later." She shuffles past Dave; the few silvery hairs amidst the L'OrÃ(c)al Cherry Cordial catch the light, and he stares. Mom turns back to him and offers a languid half smile. "Have fun," she says, "at school. Be good. Be careful. Okay? Okay."
Out the door and onto the street. The sun is like butter, smeared everywhere. Dave shakes off the heat from his stomach and the back of his neck, sniffs a bit of tingly grape in his sinuses, and ... to school, Mr. Holbrook. He turns at the end of the block, a right, then a left, then three blocks and a left, onto Pavonia Avenue, where the houses fall away and dusty storefronts yawn, selling faded crap from twenty years before. Sewing machines, American flags faded to pink and baby blue, Coca-Cola cans celebrating June's big movie — it's September. Dave is, I was, fifteen, and there was music in the air. Phat beats from passing cars, the bass so heavy that thumps turned to fuzz. Salsa and the haunting wail of Indian music too; the little restaurants on the street — all of them with signs reading No High School Students Before Lunch Thank You (with various creative misspellings and random apostrophes added) — liked to compete with tinny PA systems.
I see him now, walking down the slope of Pavonia Avenue toward the grey slab of high school, his shoulders sinking, his smile wilting. The music is swallowed by the bellows and shrieks of the kids outside. Like the restaurants, they compete on ethnic grounds: clumps of black kids have the curb, the Latinos have taken the steps, a small brace of whites mill about across the street, waiting till the last possible moment before crossing the street to Palisade Avenue and Hamilton High School. Dave isn't sure if his feet feel heavy and oh so long, as if he's wearing invisible clown shoes, due to his morning ritual, or just because school is nothing but a horrible prison. Devil's Island. Island not included.
As the drugs finally push their way up to Dave's brain, he remembers that he actually likes the school. Not the school as an encounter, but as a building. It's a huge Neoclassical Revival building, consuming the whole block, and Palisade meets Newark Avenue on a hill ... a friggin' hill like out in the country. It smells like another century. Gods and goddesses stand in stony relief over the entranceway. KNOWLEDGE is carved into the upper part of the seal over the entrance. INDUSTRY takes up the lower part. Dave thinks he might be the only kid of the 2,700 in school to have actually read the wall as he waits in line to pass through the metal detectors, and he hasn't looked up since the first day of freshman year.
"Hey, fag!" someone shouts, but since everyone's a fag, a stupid bitch, a niggah, a maricon, or an asshole, Dave doesn't look up. Whoever it is was probably talking to someone else. That's what he tells himself.
To school, Mr. Holbrook. That was me, whispering from the Ylem, but he hears it. I think he does. Today is the day. Dave oozes up the steps, his legs leaden, but he's still the first white kid in school. The others are too afraid of the blacks and Latinos to walk the gauntlet, but Dave figured out long ago that nobody gives two shits about him. He's a minnow in the sea. The stone walls of the school waver like he's experiencing a heat fever, even in the cool September air. The half-angry yawps of a thousand taunts and conversations blend into a grinding buzz. Dave walks into school, into the great yawning antechamber that connects the arterial halls, and he looks up.
He is alone, on a plane of existence all his own. Only through the ethereal haze does he see other students — mostly Asian kids with books hugged to their chests, or girls frowning into their pagers, but they are nearly still. Dave thinks of old European churches that he has never seen; he believes the schoolteacher lie about glass being nothing but a very viscous liquid, and how in those cathedrals stained glass bulges and pools in reds and blues ever so slightly over stone sills. The kids are all trapped in glass now, pushing their way through their eternities so slowly that even Dave can barely sense it. He walks past them like he was strolling through a statuary garden, finds homeroom, and slides into his usual desk two rows from the back, to relax for a century or two, until the bell rings and breaks the spell.
There is a noise from the hall, and it isn't the endless baritone of the bells, but a sound like the sun breaking winter on a frozen river. A crushing high-pitched squeal-screech of song: ice against ice. Then she walks in, she walks in at his speed, all snaking black curls and almond eyes, the ether collapsing around her like she's walking through plate glass. In a long black coat. An apple in her left hand, Golden Delicious. She takes an enthusiastic bite, smacks her lips and speaks.
Speaks to me!
"Hey, fag," she says, nodding toward the silhouette shimmering in the front of the room by the slate chemistry lab table, "is this Mr. Ottatti's homeroom?"
Dave opens his mouth to say something, but just comes to with a mouthful of blood. He keels right over and hits the back of his head on the floor. Unconsciousness is full of stars.CHAPTER 2
I never learned much about classical music, but that day I felt the holy sweep of violins cradling and rocking me like a babe in arms. The flute (was it a flute, or some other, rarer instrument?) whispered the sweetest hints of dreams.
Dave comes to near the big radiator in the nurse's office, which was always and inexplicably whining away to keep the room at a constant temperature of 85 degrees. Dave is clammy, but he was the only one not sweating. Nurse Alvarez, a thick older woman, hovers over him. Her lips are wet with perspiration. Standing over her shoulder is Officer Levine, the friendliest-looking of Hamilton's cops. He's a black guy with a Jewish name, the perfect person to meet parents after a fight or someone's purse goes missing — white parents hear the name and relax a bit before he walks in; black parents like seeing a face of authority that looks a bit like their own. Dave wonders if the school planned it that way, then he wonders why he's even thinking about stuff like this.
"How long was I out?"
"Out? You weren't out," Nurse Alvarez says, "you just walked in here and laid down."
Dave reaches up to his mouth and touches the blood on his lip.
"You bit the inside of your cheek, but it's nothing that needs stitches."
"Are you on drugs?" asks Officer Levine, but he does it in a friendly, joking way, like a television uncle who wants to buy some pot.
"He's not on drugs! Look at him."
"I am looking at him, Nurse Alvarez," Levine says. Again: "Are you on drugs, son?" but now his tone is serious, as if he knows the answer.
"He's not on drugs. He's a good kid." Alvarez nods to herself. "I can tell."
"I do ..." Dave starts. The adults lean in and leer.
" — take allergy medication. I mean, sometimes it might make me dizzy."
Officer Levine glances away to write a note in his little pad, but Nurse Alvarez stares on owlishly. "Allergy medication," she repeats.
"I thought he was a good kid, nurse."
"He looks like a good kid."
"Uh ... I don't think I remember walking here. Do I have a hall pass?"
"Why do you say that? Because he's white?"
"Maybe I should go home, and change my shirt?"
"It could be a health hazard, walking around with all that blood, right, nurse?"
"Oh no, there's no damn health hazard. That's crazy talk. This school is full of crazy talk."
"How do you know?"
"How would you know?"
"Okay, can you give me a hall pass so I can get to first period? I mean, if I'm not under arrest or anything?"
"No, because he's a nerd."
"There's a lot of blood. Is that normal?"
"Oh, it's normal when you're bleeding."
"I've seen men who have been shot who have bled less, actually."
"Yeah, but were they shot on the inside of the cheek? Were they sitting around, drooling all over themselves and humming?"
"Uh, are you two still talking about me?"
"Easy, there, guy. I know this has to be rough for you —"
"Everything's rough for kids like him."
"Nerds!" hisses the nurse.
Officer Levine laughs a sharp Ha! at that. Dave contemplates objecting to the appellation but decides he'd rather spend the rest of the day in a slightly less smelly room. The adults, or at least their stained clothing, both reek. And it's hot, and the radiator is too loud.
Levine tears a page out of his note pad. "Here's your pass. Go right to where you need to go."
Dave isn't quite sure where that is, Social Studies never being all that high on anyone's list of the mandatory, but he takes the note and steps to the door.
"You come back," Nurse Alvarez calls out after him, "if you get any more blood on you."
Dave is glad to walk the near-empty halls, to avoid the hooting, the casually thrust shoulders to his chest, the occasional catcall.
A few kids, cutting or on their way to some errand, mill by a water fountain. They're big kids, seniors — one of them has a friggin' mustache and maybe a few grey hairs in his tight curls — but they don't jeer or call out to him. Instead, they just shut up and look. Dave is nearly upon them when one of them speaks.
"Damn, what happened?" He stares pointedly at Dave's shirt, a powder blue button-down number. Dave thought it was sticking to his chest from the cold sweats, or his time baking by the radiator. Blood, thick and almost purple, coats it like bad tomato sauce.
"You get stabbed or something?" asks another kid. His name's Lee. Dave knows him a bit. Not too bright.
"Naw, it's his lip," says the third guy, the one with the mustache. "Get fucked up? Fall down?"
Dave shrugs. "Something like that."
Lee smiles. "Want us to fuck him up for you? We'll fuck him up good. Got a hundred, we'll kill him. We'll throw his body in the fucking swamp under the overpass. Hundred bucks, just name the motherfucker." He raises his hand, looking for a high-five for something, from his friends if not from Dave. He gets a trio of eyerolls instead.
"Shut the fuck up, Lee," says the mustachioed guy.
"You're gonna go to class like that?" the first kid asks Dave.
"Aww — this we gotta see."
So they march behind him, whatever their previous plans were forgotten. Dave wonders if he should offer a handshake or an introduction, but the mustache does it instead. "I'm Malik. That's Lee — "
"I know this kid!" says Lee. "He's in PE with me. Can't even serve a volleyball. His name's Damien or some shit."
"— and George."
"Yo," says George. "Your name is really Damien? That's the devil's name!"
"Dave," says Dave.
"Naw, it's Damien. I know this kid!"
"Motherfucker, he knows his own fucking name!" says Malik.
Down the steps. Dave lightly, the guys behind him waterfalls of stomping. Then to Room 216 and Social Studies. Dave opens the door and interrupts the lesson. Mr. McCann isn't sure what to say at first. He pushes his glasses up to the bridge of his nose and says, "I hope you have a pass from the nurse, if not the hospital." Dave steps into the room and the students get their first look. "Well, find a seat, son," McCann says pointedly and just loud enough to cover some of the mumbling of night of the living dead, yo and hope that motherfucker doesn't have AIDS from the crowd. Dave shuffles to the back by the heavy grated windows, where there are two free desks so he won't have to sit next to anyone. In the doorway, the three older kids stare.
"Can I help you gentlemen?" Mr. McCann asks. "Are you the honour guard or from the CDC?"
"Nah, we're good," says Malik. He doesn't move from the doorway though.
Mr. McCann steps to the door and grips the knob. "Well, so are we. I'm sure you boys have some place to be," he says, and shuts the door.
He walks back to the blackboard in front of the crowded classroom and sighs as he retrieves his chalk from the ledge. A knock on the door. Mr. McCann ignores it and raises his arm. The knock, louder. He answers the door. It's Malik.
"Don't call us boys, man," he says. "Damn, don't you know nothing?"
"Malcolm X!" shouts Lee from somewhere out in the hallway.
McCann holds his hands over his heart and says, "You have my deepest apologies. I meant nothing by it. I'm sure you fine, upstanding young men have some place to be." He nudges the door shut with his foot and heads back to the blackboard.
A knock at the door.
McCann ignores it.
A knock at the door. Louder, more insistent.
McCann turns back to the door and opens it.
There she is. She offers McCann a pass. "I'm supposed to be here," she says. "Honours Social, right?"
McCann glances over at the rest of the room. "Such that it is, you are right indeed. Take a seat, Ms. —"
She winds through the rows, passing the few empty seats on the way to the one next to Dave, then she sits and shrugs off her coat, shakes out her hair, and says, "Zevgolis."
McCann turns back to the board, and she turns to Dave.
"Can I offer you a Wetnap, or will you just pass out again?"
She has the little towelette, its foil package decorated with a tiny Acropolis in blue and white, in her hand. Dave stares at it, fighting his drug-brain's anxious desire to transform it into a wrapped condom.
"I think I'm good," he says. Then he spends the rest of the class inhaling deeply. Her hair smells like a symphony.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Bullettime"
Copyright © 2012 Nick Mamatas.
Excerpted by permission of ChiZine Publications.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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