[Note: This story appears in the Spring/Summer 2018 issue of Epiphany. You can purchase it here.]
I seen his bracelet the first time he came in the store. He wasn’t wearing a lot of jewelry. Not like me—fat silver rings, leather bands and chains looped to match Vicious boots. It was towards the end of the night, and business was slow. He slid the hollow VHS case across the counter and I seen his bracelet for a second, wrapped round his sandalwood wrist. Most of the beads was smooth, with some pits in them like he’d had it for a long time, except one bead that had a face on it and looked to me like some gnarly old man frowning or a demon sneer or something. Shit was weird, but I liked it. I glanced up and he was looking at me. Ain’t say not one word, just looked at me, water dripping from his hair. Then he looked away, at some candy by the register. I grabbed the case off the counter, read the code, and went to find the matching cassette on the wall behind me. The wall had these recesses in it, so I pretended to be searching and just ducked into one of them nooks to peep this boy.
He was new to the neighborhood. Definitely. Looked sixteen. Seventeen, maybe. Around my age. His thin shape matched the delicate hand. A wide nose and these delicious, full lips; nothing outta balance with his features, but nothing I seen before either. He was something.
I pulled the video. When I was walking back to the register I seen he was looking towards the door, at the rain. I glanced out the window, through my reflection, and I swear it was somebody in the parking lot. They was just standing there in the wind and rain, hunched over like they had some heavy shit on they back. But they wasn’t carrying nothing. It was dark and rain was coming down like crazy, but they was smiling at me. This yellow sickle of twisted teeth flashing under a couple parking lamps.
I shook my head. “Folks is crazy out there,” I said, giggling a little. It’s a nervous thing. I hate it. “Gotta keep your eyes open, you know what I’m saying?” He nodded. “Number?”
He murmured his membership number. If I wasn’t waiting so intently to hear his voice, I’d have missed it.
“Niran?” I asked, even though I knew he wasn’t Niran Wattanapanit, ’cause that was the quiet, older dude that owned the Thai restaurant a couple doors down in the plaza. Niran usually came in late too and rented from the room in the back when his wife wasn’t with him.
“That’s my father. I’m Somchai.”
His name wasn’t on the account, but he knew the number so he was probably telling the truth. Wasn’t nobody else he could really be, I guessed.
“How come I ain’t seen you around before?” I wasn’t trying to give him shit or nothing, so I smiled, trying to get him to smile, too. But when he looked at me, I clammed up. My smile shrunk and my hands was sweaty.
“I was at school, but I’m helping out at the restaurant before I go to college.”
Shit. I ain’t even finish high school. “So you be around this summer then?”
He kinda nodded, swiped some hair outta his eyes. He seemed somewhere between nervous and together, which was somewhere better than me, wherever that was. The counter between us felt too wide. Like no matter how far I stretched my arms I wouldn’t never be able to touch him.
“So,” I said, “say I give you this movie for free. Can you bring it back tomorrow?” I smiled again, afraid to look at him. I was at work, and I ain’t know this guy, and I ain’t want to push too hard, cause maybe he wasn’t. But maybe he was. Maybe. I wiped my palms on my jeans and looked at the computer. He smiled back. A spark across his lips gone almost before I could notice it. Then he nodded.
I read the title of the tape when I handed it to him. “The Crying Game?” I said. I ain’t know what it was about, but it ain’t sound all that fun. “You like sad movies, huh?”
He slid the tape off the counter and turned to leave. “I like stories we’re afraid of,” he said.
He kept walking till he got to the door and turned back when he pulled it open. “If they’re sad,” he started. But he ain’t finish. He shrugged and walked outside, and I thought about how my mama would have liked him too, probably. When he turned towards the restaurant, Gin Dī, I seen that the psycho creep was gone. Somchai walked past the pink-and-blue neon sign in the window that said Anytime Video, and his skin lit up, beautiful cotton candy through the rain-streaked glass.
* * *
In my car, Somchai’s bracelet is hooped around the gearshift. I don’t think he meant to give it to me, but I kept it anyways. Sometimes, my car’s the only place I can get away, it seem like. I come out here just to leave the house, even if I’m still staring at my own front door, trying to guess when it’ll open and my sorry-ass stepfather Terry’ll come squeezing out on a pie-eyed prowl to piss me off.
Here he come now, wearing that Redpop-stained Lions T-shirt, waddling down the couple of stairs from our door. His eyes is bleary ’cause he been smoking all morning. He probably hungry and angry and gonna try to tell me I can’t leave ’cause he want me to do some shit he know I don’t wanna do. I should threaten to call the cops on his little weed operation. Or tell him I seen them talking to one of them raggedy fools he got selling for him.
I back out of the parking space before he can get to me, but he moving faster now, his fat ass shuffling to catch the car. I shift into first and he standing in front of the car, shouting, “Fuck you think you going?” I could just shift on into second and run him over from a dead stop. My mama said be the person other folks is afraid to be. But she was afraid to stand him down, so I don’t know if it’s good advice or not. Just hard advice, maybe. I realize my hand ain’t even on the gearshift anymore. It’s wrapped around The Club, that I keep propped up in the passenger side footwell for folks trying to fuck with me.
Terry got his hands out in front of him, telling me not to go nowhere. He starts moving over to my side of the car and I see the two Perkins girls is looking at us from the sidewalk. They hair glistening and freshly parted in thick twists with elastic ball barrettes, like oversized Lemonheads and Red Hots. They looking at me and Terry. He coming around to my window and I’m thinking about them girls watching us, wondering how many times a kid needs to see some shit like this before they give up on the pretty daydreams taped to they bedroom walls. Terry banging on my window, yelling at me to get my black ass back in the house. His sweaty, excruciated face remind me of the first time I seen him look like that, when I was ten and Ms. Hutchins’s place was on fire and flames was charring the roof, flickering out the windows like whip-crack lullabies. Terry had pulled me away from the fire, asking me what I was doing out there, shoving me towards the house, telling me to get inside.
He banging harder now. His fist thumping and pushing on my window, making the car rock. His other hand tugging on the handle. The suspension squeaking and the gas can sloshing in the trunk. The Perkins girls just watching us, and I let go of The Club. They don’t need to see no more. I start pulling off and Terry pauses, surprise all over his face, like he can’t believe I’m doing it. He bangs faster, screaming while trotting next to the car. I upshift, roll down the driveway, check the traffic, then pull out onto Lafayette with a tiny Terry standing solo in the rearview, arms waving in the middle of the street.
I keep driving. My mind drifts, and after a few turns I realize where I’m going and settle into it. Roll the window down, let the air cool me off. On the passenger seat I got something to give Somchai, the bag it’s in flapping in the wind. After a few minutes, I see the colors popping up in the distance, through a couple of houses and buildings. I turn onto Heidelberg, the street stretching out in front of the blue hood of my car. Ain’t nobody on it, and the tall grass is blowing in the July breeze. I creep down the block smiling, thinking back to three weeks ago, when I brought Somchai to see this gaudy street. He’d been working with his folks for about a month by then. I seen him at the coffee shop around the corner and we talked some, and when he came in the video store I always rang his videos for free.
The day I took him to Heidelberg, I was on break at work and wanted to go for a ride. Anything to get the hell outta there. LaTonya was bugging the hell outta me, asking why I didn’t cut my nappy-ass hair, and why I was wearing eyeliner. She ain’t actually want to know; she was just doing it to piss me off and make Dwayne laugh, same as when Somchai’d walked by earlier while they was restocking, and LaTonya said something to Dwayne about the lady-boy they got working over at the Thai place. She’d looked over at me and asked if I was gonna let him “love me long time.” Dwayne laughed so hard I thought he was gonna throw up. I walked out of the store, hoping he would.
At the restaurant, Somchai was sitting behind the register reading a book. They ain’t have a lot of tables in the there ’cause most folks get they food to go. I asked him if he wanted to go for a ride, just for a half hour, to get some fresh air. He kinda shook his head, his hair flopping around a bit, said his parents needed him to stay. I ain’t have it in me to beg. So I just hung around, staring at the fish in the small pond they had in the front of the restaurant, with fake plants and a trickling waterfall. It was three fish in there swimming around. One orange and white, one red and black, and the last one was gray and kinda dull. I was watching them, thinking about the fish I used to have that I had let die and never cleaned up. Just rotted in the bowl next to my bed, the water evaporating, leaving a cloudy film on the glass, until it was only some frail bones laying on top of dry rocks.
“Okay, let’s go,” he said suddenly, and at first I ain’t know what was happening. “It’s actually pretty slow right now, so I can get away for a minute.”
I would’ve thought he was fucking with me, but I’d learned he always so damn serious, and I seen that he was standing by the door waiting for me, so I just nodded and walked outside.
I never drove more careful in my life than that day. I wasn’t never worried about myself too much on the road, but I ain’t want nothing to happen to this boy while he was with me. I knew he lived outside the city in Dearborn ’cause I looked up his account and damn near memorized all of the information. His address. His phone. My list of movies to watch grew whenever he rented something. Movies I ain’t even know we had in the store was all of a sudden the most important films in my life: Pink Flamingos, Heavenly Creatures, Frisk. I had to sneak and watch them after Terry was ’sleep, with the volume down low, my finger ready to switch it off at the tiniest noise ’cause ain’t no way he was having them movies up in that house, and getting caught meant another night sleeping in the Festiva.
As we drove, there was bodies roaming the blocks like daylit dead, no place to be and nobody to stop them. I had a feeling Somchai wasn’t used to seeing the hood so I tried to take the best-looking route to Heidelberg Street. That ain’t no easy thing to do in Detroit, but I managed, I think.
“Whoa,” was all he said when he seen the colorful display spread across the damn-near vacant lots. There was houses covered with all sorts of shit. One was covered with wheels. Old tires. Rusted hubcaps. Bicycle wheels, their sliced spokes twisted into slender tentacles poking out from the sides and roof of the house. Radio Flyer wagon wheels lined across the tops of windows and doors. There was columns of wheels rising from the overgrown grass; tractor tire base with a Mack truck wheel stacked on it, followed by 4x4 wheels and regular Goodyears until the top was just a donut-sized something. Each layer painted a different color.
“This’s shit you don’t see nowhere else,” I said. “Some artist did this. Called it the Heidelberg Project.”
He nodded, his head swiveling right and left as I slowly rolled down the street. I seen that block a hundred times, so I spent the time looking at him. His lips was parted just a smidgen, his eyes was looking everywhere at once, and I was thinking about how his life was probably nothing like this. Glorified decay on display for the world to judge. He’d told me before his high school was private and he slept there. I figured his parents must make some good money to send him somewhere like that.
The sun was shining in the windows, lighting up his hand while he played with that bracelet around his wrist. Tightening it. Loosening it. Spinning it round. I wanted to grab his hand then and for it to burn me so couldn’t nobody tell me later that it ain’t actually happen. Not even myself.
He was looking at a house that had clock and doll faces all over it. Them old dirt-streaked faces was staring at us, eyes asking what we was doing on they turf, hands telling us it was noon or midnight. Or that right then we was living both at once. The faces was everywhere. In the trees, swinging from chains attached to the awning of the porch, staring out the windows. I moved the car a little faster to get past the house, but Somchai’s eyes was locked on it, almost turning around in the seat.
“This here makes me feel powerful,” I said, and he faced me. “I know it sounds dumb, but I think about how some guy turned this block into something. I don’t know if you can call it beautiful, but it’s something and people respect it.” I sneaked a glance and was relieved to see he was still looking at me. I stopped the car. “I’m sorry,” I giggled, and hated myself for it.
I looked out my window at the polka dot house. A pale-yellow, broad-sided thing, with different color dots painted on it. The dots was uneven, different sizes and not exactly circles, like the artist ain’t care if they wasn’t perfect and just the fact that they was there was good enough.
“I don’t think it’s dumb.” I could feel his eyes on me, but I kept looking at the dots. Gave him time to really see me. “My parents named me Somchai because they wanted a man. Not a boy. A man. That’s what it means. One who is manly.” He laughed, light and sharp. “Do you think that name fits?”
I ain’t know what to say. And he ain’t expect me to.
“Me neither,” he continued. “I try, but sometimes, I don’t know.”
I was about to answer when he pointed to one of the houses. Or what used to be a house. “What happened there?”
I knew what he was pointing at without even looking. All that was left of the building was a scorched first floor and some burnt rafters on top of a couple blackened support beams. Only one side of the house was still standing. Dark splotches was melted into the charred wood siding where the stuffed animals that the artist had nailed all around the outside of the house was dissolved into bleeding pools of plastic, oozing down the walls. I looked at the dots, but I could see the other house in my head too, bright as a midnight carnival. The bears and bunnies and bumblebees, all faded and filthy from being out in the weather year-round. I could see the Pink Panther nailed to the front door, and them red eyes that peered out the window at me, that sick grin gleaming through the glass. I could see it. All of it. “It was a fire.”
Even as I drive by now, three weeks later, I feel like I can still see somebody up in that burnt-out house, picking through the debris for anything that the fire missed. That could still be ruined.
That day in Heidelberg, we ain’t really say nothing else on the drive until we was almost back to the plaza. I wasn’t in no hurry to get back to LaTonya, but I ain’t wanna be late for work.
“What time you off? You wanna do something after work tonight?” I asked. He got kinda stiff then, like he was worried I was gonna say something like that. He started fidgeting with his bracelet, sliding it on and off. “You ain’t got to. I’m just asking.”
He forced a smile. “My parents don’t like me being out too late, and I have to ride home with them, anyway.”
“I could drop you off.”
“I mean I can’t. My parents would be upset.”
“We ain’t gonna do nothing crazy. Just go to The Magic Stick or something. Bowl. Shoot some pool. Get some food.”
“I can’t.” He propped his elbow on the door armrest and held his chin while he looked out the window. “If I could, I would. I’m sorry.”
I ain’t really know what to believe. Part of me wanted to believe him, but I didn’t really. I couldn’t blame him though. I been dealing with people like LaTonya and Dwayne since forever. Been the kid that grown-ups at family reunions would whisper was “a little sweet.” When I first met Somchai, something in me knew that that was something we shared. It was something lonely about the way we was both up in that plaza every day, and I had hoped for a person I ain’t have to worry about it with. But he wasn’t trying to have it. Or at least, his parents wasn’t.
I pulled into the parking lot and killed the engine, but I ain’t get out the car. We both just sat there, neither of us wanting to go back. I’d been working at Anytime for two years, but at that moment I seen how dingy the place was. The whole plaza. The concrete in the lot was old and broken up. Weeds and grass was sprouting from the cracks and the lampposts was all spotted with rust. The curb that led up off of the lot, onto the sidewalk where the businesses were, was worn down and crumbling. Even the buildings looked shabby, like ain't nobody care about them one way or another.
I don’t know what Somchai was thinking then, but he was looking at the place too. I can only guess his thought was the same as mine, ’cause he said, “I can’t wait to get out of here,” and even though I knew he ain’t mean the car, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was part of what he wanted to get away from.
“Don’t let me stop you,” I said, unbuckling myself. By the time I had got out and seen the bracelet lying on his seat, he was halfway back to his parents’ place.
* * *
Elmwood Cemetery’s around the corner from my house. Sometimes I come here and pretend it’s a different city. The stone angels and steep hills remind me of Paris, what Paris probably look like. I come here to think, usually about my mama. Sometimes I think we could have afforded burying her here, but that fat fuck took the insurance money. I don’t know, not sure, but I think that’s what happened. I walk around the curvy roads in the cemetery not knowing if I can ever miss anybody like I miss her.
Last week, me and Somchai was talking at the coffee shop on our break and I told him about the night when I was nine and me and her was walking through the fair. Everything was bright and loud like we was walking through a pinball game. I had me a hot elephant ear and Mama kept trying to steal some. I was snatching it away and laughing, passing it back and forth between my hands while I ate it ’cause it was burning my fingers. She was laughing too, laughing so hard she was sagged up against Terry, and he put his arm around her and kissed her neck. When her laughter died down, she looked up at him and her face changed and I looked away, cause I ain’t like seeing them all hugged up and shit. Her and Terry was married before I can remember, and I never met my dad. But Mama loved Terry, and she ain't believe me when I told her about what he did to me with the extension cord. He did it over my jeans so it wouldn’t leave no marks. At the fair, I just licked the sugar and cinnamon off the dough, thinking she wasn’t gonna want none after I did that. And neither would he.
Terry had a sheet of tickets and he was ripping them off and handing them to us when we wanted to ride. I guess it gave him something to do since he ain’t never get on none his self. It was then that I seen the Tilt-A-Whirl through some of the gates. The blue and red bubbles was spinning around and I could see flashes of kids cracking up while they turned that little wheel in the middle, trying to get the bubble thing to whip around at just the right moment. Terry said no but Mama said to let me go; she was gonna get on the Fire Ball, that tall arm that spinned you around while it swung back and forth like a pendulum.
I ran over to the Tilt-A-Whirl and got in line, but it wasn’t that many folks in it. The guy took my tickets and let out this wheezy cackle that smelled like shit and peanuts, then walked away to the next car. I was in my car alone, so I started trying to turn the wheel to see if I could get it to swing around to face my mama. When I got it around, I could see her walking up to get on her ride, sitting on the bench and waving to Terry. Then we started moving.
The base was turning, slowly picking up speed, and I seen that it wasn’t nobody in line for the next ride, so I yelled at the guy to make it an extra long one. He gave me this crooked smile and it looked like he nodded before he got lost around the corner and the ride started getting faster. I was grabbing that rubber wheel in the middle, pushing and pulling hard as I could to get that bubble to whip around. It was two kids in one of the cars next to mine, one was laughing his ass off while the thing spun around, the other kid had this horrible look on his face, like he was scared for his life. I’m pulling on that wheel until finally I get it just right and the car starts sailing, whipping around once, twice, hitting that sweet spot where it seems to slow down before it whips around another couple times. The Fire Ball started swinging while I spun around, and it was right in that sweet spot that I seen him.
The car to the other side of me had been facing the other way every time I could see it, but right then it was facing me and I seen this ugly-looking kid in there. Just sitting and looking out, not even thinking about the ride. He was wearing a black hoodie, with raggedy hair poking out the edges, and his face was all fucked up, like somebody threw hot grease on him or something. He wasn’t no bigger than a kid, but he must have been high as hell or something, ’cause his eyes was burning red, beaming from the grimy skin around them. It could have been a reflection from one of the lights on the ride, but I swear they was glowing. And he was smiling this broad-ass, black grin, his teeth like scorched popcorn kernels. I seen this kid for just a second, but I knew then that he seen me too before my car whipped him outta my sight.
The ride kept going, and I kept trying to see this kid again, but his bubble was steady facing the other way. The guy running the ride for sure gave us some extra time, and when I seen the two kids in the other car they was both looking scared. That was when I heard the creak of twisting metal and a loud crash over the sound of the gears in the Tilt-A-Whirl grinding and turning. People was screaming all over the place and the ride started slowing down, the music drawed out like someone had a finger on the turntable. When everything stopped, folks was just running to and away from the Fire Ball, and that’s when I seen what had happened.
The pendulum part was swinging back and forth coming to a stop, but the part on the bottom, the part that’s supposed to spin around, it was missing one of the large benches. It had flown off or got knocked loose or something. I ran over to my ride’s exit, pushing through folks that was piled up trying to get out. Finally, someone pushed the metal fences to the side and we all poured out into the strip, trying to see. I was running through the crowd, bumping into other folks that was huddled up together and strollers and shit, trying to get closer to the Fire Ball, trying to find my mama, when Terry snatched me up and held me. I struggled to get out from under him, but he had me tight and he was saying, “No, little man!” But I was pulling away and scratching at his arm and screaming for my mama, feeling the fair dissolve into a blurry mess of painful knowing.
* * *
I walk outta Elmwood and back to the car. It’s getting darker out, and I can hear folks playing basketball on the court around the bend. I grab some tissues out the glove box. I only let myself cry when I’m in there, ’cause ain’t nobody gonna say shit to somebody crying in a cemetery, but I broke that rule when I told Somchai that story. First time I ever broke it, and the first time I ever told it. I clean my face up and put some drops in to make sure my eyes ain’t red.
I switch on the headlights and just sit for a minute, feeling the Festiva rumbling, shaking my seat and the steering wheel. Around the gearshift, the beads on Somchai’s bracelet rattle and I look over at the bag on the passenger seat. I picked up a new bracelet for him the other day, like mine but not so wide. Black leather, with copper rivets instead of steel, to match his skin. I’m gonna swing through and give it to him at Gin Dī before they close tonight.
When we was talking last week, when I told him about Mama, we was getting into it. Real talk. The kind you don’t just have with nobody you don’t know or share something with. I mean, I don’t know Somchai like that, but I seen a little more of him that day. I got silent after I finished, and he ain’t try to fill it with no bullshit. We just sat together, and it wasn’t until I smiled at him to let him know I was okay that he smiled back and started telling me about his parents.
His lips was moving, and I was staring at them. Loving how full they was and wondering what they felt like. His breath always smelled good. Soft but crisp, like clean laundry that you could bite into. I was only half listening to him, lost in them lips, but the look on his face was serious so I made myself pay attention.
“They don’t want me to talk to you. They don’t say it, but I can tell.” His eyes looked in mine for just a second before they cut down to his tea. He reached for it, and I thought about how it was the first time he touched it since we sat down.
It took me a minute to even know what he was talking about. I went back through what he had said just before I had started really paying attention: his parents asking him why me and him was kicking it so much, what school I was going to, why he ain’t find some other kids in Dearborn to hang with.
“They know they in Detroit though, right? How they gonna avoid talking to us? They got you coming down here every day and they don’t want you talking to us?” I wasn’t mad or nothing. Just kinda hurt. And confused. “Ain’t nobody ask them to come putting they restaurant here anyways.”
He took another sip of tea and I stopped myself. It wasn’t his fault. I ain’t wanna make him feel like I was attacking him and his family or nothing. We just sat there for some minutes and I finished my mocha. Then he started up again.
“They want me to be more than they were. Than they are.”
“So I guess I’m less, huh?”
“I didn’t mean it like that.”
It was stupid and I couldn't change that it upset me. We was both caught up in the same bullshit. His folks wanted him to be successful and not have to roll into a restaurant every day, serving folks like me. I got that. Terry was the same way sometimes. He would be high as fuck, rambling about white folks wasn’t “nothing but serpents and thieves” one minute and the next telling me black folks needed to get some motivation like them white boys on TV. We wasn’t supposed to like them; we was just supposed to be like them. Somchai’s folks was on that same shit.
“It’s not just that anyway. It’s part of why I have to go to Thailand for school, but they don’t like talking about that either.”
“They got a lot to say for folks who don’t like talking.”
He laughed a little bit. I thought about him and his dad. How they both came into the video store renting movies that they ain’t want no one else in they family knowing about. How Somchai still hung out with me, even though his parents was riding him about it. I looked at him, waiting for him to look away. Waiting for him to grab his tea. But he didn’t.
When we left the coffee shop a few minutes later, we walked the half a block back to the plaza. I wanted to hold his hand. I wanted to put my arm around him and tell him that with me, it was alright. I wanted so much, but I just walked next to him and bumped him with my shoulder to see him smile.
When we turned the corner where the restaurant was, his dad was standing outside looking at us.
* * *
It’s almost night now. Killed a little time riding around cause I ain’t wanna interrupt Somchai during a dinner rush or nothing. Crazy how you get all these people in the plaza at once sometimes, but other times Lafayette only got a couple cars going up and down it. Six lanes across and almost no cars in sight. Even the girl who rang me up for Somchai’s gift was talking about it the other day. Said the deserted streets was on account of this thing called the Nain Rouge people said been stalking the city forever, like a curse, some dwarf or demon that’s supposed to show up before anything bad happens in the city. And looking around this place, I believe it. No wonder Somchai wanna get out. I wanna get out, too.
I pull into the plaza and park in front of Gin Dī. I grab the bag off the passenger seat and I’m walking up to the door, trying to see if I can see him through the front window, but the taped-up menus and the garden paradise is in the way. I ball up the bag with the bracelet. I can feel the leather band and hard metal rivets underneath the paper, pressing into my skin.
I remember him hurrying back to this place after he left his bracelet in my car, and how I wasn’t sure what to do. I thought about giving it back to him, but he ain’t never ask about it. At the time, the bracelet seemed like the closest I was ever gonna get to touching him. It was easier to say nothing than it was to let that go. And he ain’t replace it neither. Every time I see him I notice his naked wrist. Begging to be touched.
When I walk in, his dad sitting behind the register. He look at me and then look away, back to the little TV he keep behind the counter. Don’t say shit. Like he ain’t never seen me before. Like he don’t come up in that store and rent skin flicks from me every fucking week. I ask him if Somchai’s here, even though I know he ain’t. If he was, he’d be sitting right there in that chair, instead of this old man. He shake his head and adjust the volume. I can hear he’s listening to some Thai movie, but I can’t understand a goddamn word. I ask him if Somchai gonna be in tomorrow, and his dad just laughs. Hard. Like I just told the funniest fucking joke in the world.
His smile pisses me off. I ain’t never seen him smile before. I ain’t know it would hurt. He nodding his head up and down to himself while he laughs, looking at his movie. His top canines push out in front of the other teeth and his bottom teeth is totally hidden. A wide strip of pink flashes at me above the white, and I hate it. It’s his son’s smile. It don’t belong on this old man’s face.
I walk up to the counter and ask again if Somchai gonna be in tomorrow. He look up at me, his eyes sagging, creases cut deep into his forehead and the sides of his mouth. The grin’s gone, quick as it came, and I’m wondering what else this man’s face can tell me about Somchai’s future. I’m searching for the ugly exhaustions his son might see forty years from now, and thinking about how I can keep them away.
I put my hand on the counter and the bracelet clinks against the glass through the paper bag. He blinks at me. Then he says that Somchai ain’t coming back. I ask him what he talking about and he says that Somchai gone. Back in Thailand. Then he looks at his TV and laughs again. Hard.
I get back in my car and start to drive but I can’t see too good. I’m thinking about going back to Elmwood, but it’s closed by now. I stop the car in the middle of the lot. Back in Thailand. Somchai ain’t even say nothing. He ain’t say a word, if he even knew.
I’m sitting in this lot under these fucking broken-ass lamps, with the red dashboard lights shining up at me and this stupid fucking bracelet in a bag. I’m about to pull it out and hang it from the rearview when I see them eyes glowing back at me from the mirror like wet rubies, red and black flowing from them, down the face, an erupting volcano burning everything in its way. Them eyes is staring at me, not blinking. Not moving. Just staring straight into me. Familiar. Like they know everything about me and I know everything about them. Inside them, flames is swirling, and I need to move. I start driving.
I pull up the driveway and cut the lights, but I can still see so clear. Everything is lit up. I grab the bag and the gas can out the trunk and look across the parking lot to Ms. Hutchins’s place. It’s lit up too. Just like before, the night Terry pulled me away. I can almost hear the house singing.
I walk up to the door, and inside I see Terry laid out on the couch. The TV on. There’s a pile of cash sitting on the coffee table next to an empty bowl, a blunt, and a bottle. He just laying there, the TV loud as hell, and I’m standing in the door looking at him, my hand throbbing cause I’m holding the gas can so tight. I unscrew the cap and think about dipping his blunt in the gasoline, fire erasing him. And Niran. And all the dagger-toothed smiles that cackle and cut and close in on me like barbed lace. I think about it, then snatch the bowl up and head to my room.
I put the bowl on the table by my bed and kneel on the floor while I pour some gas into it. Just a little. It only took a little to get Heidelberg going.
I light it and drop the paper bag into it. The bag catches and I watch the bright petals peel back while firefly embers float up out of the bowl.
When the bag’s gone, I snatch the bracelet from the flame and strap it to my wrist. The leather is warped and warm, hugging my wrist. The copper sears me. Rivets blister my skin, and my eyes reflect from the fish tank, blazing. Lit up by fire.