The Kid That Once Lived

by Andrew D. Gray

The moon is partly hidden behind a grouping of pine trees, but he can still see clearly as its image reflects brightly off the bouncing water. He is glad to be all alone now, but scans the park just to make sure he really is.

There is a volleyball net staked to the ground, surrounded by tan sand and tufts of yellow grass. A pair of kid’s shoes is tied to one of the flimsy, plastic posts. They look like the kind that light up with each step. He figures it doesn’t matter, and walks over to a faucet nestled between two buzzing outhouses. Crusted blood from his right nostril turns pink and runs down into his mouth as he splashes cold water across his bruised and oily face. The cold feels good and he lets the water run, and run, and run, until he can feel no more, but he can still smell the shit all around him.

Scuffed and torn Airwalks bounce against his faded jeans, and fine sand feels warm on the soles of his feet as he lets his toes play with the small grains. He is on his way to the hulking, white pavilion that overlooks the bay. Inside are two, blue, plastic picnic-tables. He sits down on the closest one and runs his cracked nails across his itchy scalp, playing with his long, greasy hair in the process. He looks out onto the water with one finger nestled behind his right, cauliflower ear.

A grouping of black-scuffed, white buoys dance in a semi-circle around a green raft bobbing nervously on the fingers of open water; they are like excited bystanders waiting to see if it will succumb or succeed. He can see the red band around their heads nodding to the beats of this game, and he wonders how much water it would take to wash that red off, to drown those faded crowns off their mostly white exterior.

He can’t hear the fine slapping of the raft’s bottom as it crests over each surge of water, trying to regain its balance, but he knows the sound all too well. It’s the sound of a wooden spoon on bare flesh; it’s the sound of an open fist on the middle of the back; it’s the sound of a drunk’s belt correcting a child’s foul mouth.

He has spent too many nights out here, under this pavilion, sitting at this picnic table. There have been too many nights watching the raft move back and forth, up and down, and it never goes anywhere. But he is always here to watch it, as if one of these nights the raft will break free and end this cycle. It’s a nice thought, and he closes his eyes and lowers his head until he feels the cold touch of the picnic table’s embrace on his forehead. The coldness makes him forget the pain, but he remembers the rest.

The fights were never good, but he always knew what to expect. His mother’s husband, Jake, knew what places to hit, what places people wouldn’t see: legs, ass, back, and feet. Sometimes the beatings would hurt, sometimes he pretended they hurt so Jake would stop, and sometimes he pretended they didn’t hurt, just to piss Jack off. Jake always knew when to quit, though. He knew when enough was enough. He wasn’t, as Jake liked to state, a dummy. Jake knew that if anyone ever found out, the social security checks would dry up, and so would the booze.

All the kids at school knew about the beatings. They didn’t care, but they knew. He had always been the weird kid, the faggot who tried to give some unwilling kid head in the back of the bus. He’s the filthy homo whose mother is complete batshit and whose father blew his own brains out with a shotgun.

He wasn’t at all surprised when no one clapped for him at graduation last week. The principal barely shook his hand when he gave him the diploma. It was more of a “get the hell out of here” gesture. It was a gesture of anything but good will. He sometimes wishes that he would’ve punched the principal, or mooned the crowd, or struck a “suck it” pose as he wiped his ass with the piece of symbolic bullshit.

He didn’t do any of that, though. He took the diploma, he took the name calling, he took the laughs, and he took the beatings. This last beating was bad, but it’s going to be the last. He isn’t sure what to do now. The tiny pillows in his pocket are getting heavier each and every minute. He takes them out and caresses them in their small and glossy, plastic coffin. They speak to him and he listens as his eyes begin to close.

“Hey! I’ve been looking all over for you.” He raises his head and notices a little kid wearing a green, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles t-shirt jogging towards him; Leonardo’s face looks like it’s covered in chocolate ice cream and Donatello looks pissed off.

“I’m not who you’re looking for.” He scans the park; it’s empty except for the kid and him.

“Where did he go?” The kid’s breath mists into the stale, summer night where it plumes and disappears into the cloudless sky.

The kid is close, and he can make out small cuts and scrapes running across the kid’s legs and knees. What he thought was ice-cream, he now notices, is blood, and Donatello looks scared, terrified. Michelangelo is hidden beneath the massive swatch of blood.

As the kid takes one step closer, the hanging moon’s penetrating reflection captures all of him. He tries to speak, he wants to ask the kid why his cheeks are crimson streaked, why his hair looks like a bed of wet leaves with a snake stemming out, a rat-tail that hangs limp on his left shoulder with bits of sand clinging to the rubber-band that’s keeping everything together. His voice is gone and the questions go unasked, unanswered.

The kid stares at him through long, black eyelashes that slap his eyebrows with each exhausting blink. Their eyes don’t meet, yet they see one another. Two untold stories seem to meet in the silence between them.

A gust of wind carries a heavy smell of sea-weed into the pavilion. The smell is awful and he begins to cry. The kid watches him, watches the fat tears streak down his cheeks and hesitate on the crest of his dimpled chin before taking the plunge all the way down.

Something breaks the silence, a giggle filtered through the restraints of lungs full of mucus and fluid. He is scared. The parking lot is empty. The only movements are those of moths swarming to get just one more dose of light as this dark and cold night threatens to swallow them whole.

Small fingers wedge against his temple and he can hear the squishy sound of laughter as his head is suddenly held tight, droplets of unholy water burn into his forehead. The fingers bite, and he wants to give up. He knows what’s coming, knows what’s going to happen, but he’s not ready, not just yet.

His mouth is slowly forced open like a heavy cellar door on rusty hinges, and the moon stares at him through the gray, gnarled limbs of a desperately thirsty something. His vision slumberly pans across the landscape through the filtered lens of this blurry existence until the moon exits stage right. Wormy flesh swivels his camera. There’s a crunch, a splash, and he sees cold, dead eyes that don’t smile. These are the eyes of crows, eyes that see, but what they’re looking at, no one knows.

He is lost and floundering, but he can feel hot tears pave a trail down his cheeks and taste the sour breath of a thousand tides force its way down his throat. Mountain-Dew and burnt toast fight their way up his throat, but those eyes, they never change as they peer into his over the bridge of his dripping nose. He can see himself in them.

His mouth is open and his tongue, sporting lines and scars of teeth gnashing nightmares, bulges in and out. His nostril is bubbling blood, but none of it spills; it hangs like a frail placenta waiting to burst as his image begins to quiver like a flame dancing on the mysterious currents of some ancient ritual. He feels his face begin to melt, and the giggle, it wavers, plateaus, and falters, like it never existed at all.

He is no longer visible. The kid, he is no longer visible. The waves no longer lap gently against the shore, they stampede and run.

Two, small and distorted, red lights appear through this murky haze. They look like they belong on the bottom of those shoes, the kind that light up with each step forward, but he doesn’t get the chance to decide whether this matters. Cold, dark fingers stroke the goose pimpled flesh along his neck, down the protruding knuckles of his spine. Something slithers into his mouth and plays with his tongue, caressing the scars.

As the small, glossy coffin sits empty, he doesn’t worry if the raft will ever break free, or if the buoys will ever be satisfied. He doesn’t worry if his cracked and well-worn skin will be carried away and buried in the sand beneath this bay or if someone will find it and wonder who wore it, who it belonged to. He doesn’t worry about the kid that once lived. His mouth is open, and silence rushes to fill in the lines.

The End