Tuesday
May072013

Rabbit Fur Coat

Matthew Simmons


 

Boy had black duct tape wrapped in rings around the little purple warts on his fingers. Someone had told him after a couple of weeks like that, the warts would fade away. It had been a couple of weeks, but so far, no dice.

"What's that? So you remember you're a fag?" a Lundberg said. One of the taller ones. He was standing behind Boy, hands in pockets, in a small crowd, half Lundbergs, half others.

Boy ignored them, closed the metal door and spun the tumbler on his locker two times, then three more. He curled his books up in his arms, turned away, and a punch landed on the back of his neck, bending him, and throwing him, and tumbling him forward. He smacked against the wall. The Lundberg brother responsible laughed. And then the others laughed.

 

Sarah sat in front of him in fifth period study hall. He came in late, cleaned up as he could get. A bloody hunk of tissue stuck from his nose, red at the nostril. She mouthed what happened. Lundberg, he mouthed back.

They talked about it at lunch.

"Whatever happened to tripping? Or yanking books?" he said, pulling at the tissue and examining at the dried red spots.

"In my day," she said, "bullies didn't hurt you so much as humiliate you with scathing comments on your hygiene and personal style."

"The good old days," said Boy.

"Here's to them," said Sarah, raising a can of Coke, half-filled with whiskey from her father's liquor cabinet. They tapped cans and tipped them back. They drank and crushed the empties.

She gave him a tape she'd made for him, a collection of songs from some new records. One side was Echo and the Bunnymen, Bauhaus, Joy Division. The other was an album called Meat is Murder by The Smiths. "Who are The Smiths?"

"You'll like them," she said. "Gloomy. Made for you."

 

In study hall, Boy rolled and rolled and rolled a twelve-sided die. It was his favorite of the polyhedrals—his role-playing dice. He kept them in the pocket of his backpack. Six-sided dice he stole from family board game boxes. The others procured from a game shop in Marquette. The pyramid-shaped four sided dice. The two ten sideds like little tops, thrown together to roll percentages. Eights. Twenties. All light blue plastic, and sold with a white crayon to fill the numbers. But, the twelve, was best, all interlocked pentagrams and rarely used.  

Maybe it was the number 12. A better age than his current one. The age when he woke up to find a small stain on his sheets that meant he had reached puberty. Twelve months in a year and twelve donuts in the boxes at the tables after the service at church his grandparents took him to. Twelve apostles for the fake Son of God. Base-twelve and a "School House Rock" cartoon with a twelve-toed boy.

He liked that especially. Bad at math, usually, Boy still liked the idea. If people were born with twelve fingers and toes instead of ten, everyone would multiply by twelve as naturally as they multiplied by ten now. A quirk of nature, a fluke of birth could change so much. An extra finger or an extra toe, and people wouldn't measure their lives in decades. They would gather their lives in dozens.

He thought with time he could train himself to think in base-twelve. His friend Hockey thought he couldn't, that no one could. Hockey was a hack-and-slash psychopath when they played. He never thought things through. So Boy didn't listen to him.

 

After school, Hockey drove them home, singing along to his WASP tape. Boy knew Hockey well enough to know he'd never fucked, much less like a beast, but Hockey screeched the chorus to "Fuck Like A Beast" along with Blackie Lawless, anyway. A train blocked the entrance to the interstate south, and stuck Hockey's beater behind a school bus. Behind his razor sunglasses, he stewed. His hair draped his neck, frosted blond and spiky on the top. "Just like Brian Bosworth," he said. Kids in the back of the bus, middle-schoolers, stuck out tongues, and Hockey flew the bird their way.

"Fuck you," he said, sticking his head out the window. A chorus of single finger salutes rose from the bus's back row.

Boy laughed, and smoked one of Hockey's cigarettes, even though they were Marlboros. "Camels are better," he said. He had chewing gum to mask the smell on his breath for when he got home.

"You got your one-hitter? Wanna get high?" Hockey asked.

"Nothing in it. Town's dry," Boy said.

Hockey spit brown into a dented Mountain Dew can, reached over, and punched Boy's shoulder. "This town is never dry. No town is ever dry."

"Fucker," Boy said.

"My car, I get to punch you," Hockey said. "Your car, you can punch me."

"Yeah, car," said Boy. "My car. When I get one. If I get one."

"Maybe from your grandparents?"

"Not likely." Boy smoked with the cigarette inverted, palmed. The smoke trickled out from under his pinky, and dribbled out through his nose.

Back home Boy went to the bathroom. Younger, he played a game where he had to leave the bathroom before the refilling of the toilet ended, imagining it as the countdown to an explosion. Older, he didn't mind, but sometimes saw himself blown through the wall; ripped apart by hot, swift gusts of fiery air; scattered; his fingers embedded in the plaster; the bones of his toes like nails into the floor; his teeth, shrapnel. Now he rubbed his eyes. His grandmother knocked on the door to call him to the dinner table.

 

That night, Boy thought about the game on Saturday. Hockey was going to show up in the afternoon to role-play until late into the night. (He was the only one left who still played. All the other boys had peeled away from the group toward girls and parties.) Hockey usually brought vodka in a flask, or they stole it from Boy's grandpa. They played at Boy's house because Hockey's parents were too involved, too likely to check in on them. And thought the role-playing was a bridge to the occult. Boy's grandparents were never around to spoil anything.

Boy heard a yowl.

Outside, the Lundbergs had gotten hold of a farm dog. Four-wheeler engines purred and buzzed, purred and buzzed, as they tied him with a rope to the back. They rode him through the field, and laughed.

Boy covered his ears. He pulled Sarah's tape from his bag, put it on the stereo. He cradled his head in the headphones, pushed them tight with both hands, and listened to the music. He only heard the music. The Smiths.

 

Sarah went running through the St. Vinnie's, a fur coat in her arms. Spots were worn through, but it was long. Sarah and Boy play fought over it, but it was definitely Boy's. Fit him snug, and had a perfect length for the arms. Boy modeled in the mirror, and Sarah laughed, petting his back.

Boy pulled the coat tight at his chest, and pointed a toe. He cocked his head left. He cocked his head right. He swiveled his head left. He swiveled his head right.

They went for ice cream, the fur in a brown grocery bag in the back seat of her car. She dared him to wear it in to the Dairy Freeze, but he wouldn't.

"Caleb is coming up from Milwaukee this weekend," Sarah said. Caleb was Sarah's boyfriend. He went to an Arts-focused high school.

"A school without a football team," said Boy. "A kind of heaven."

"He's staying with his Dad. You busy?"

"D&D on Saturday," Boy said.

"Geek," she said.

"Bitch," he said.

"Church, then," she said. Sarah had met Caleb at a Lutheran Church camp, and wrote him a letter every Tuesday. Boy couldn't go with her to camp because he worked summers, handing out buckets to families who picked their own strawberries.

 

The next night was no noise from the Lundbergs. Their kids—what, seven? Eight?—all stayed in.

Boy stayed up later, drawing and sort of reading Douglas Adams. He also half thought about the game, and the new story he'd come up with. A kingmaker, a Bishop assassinated, political struggle for the throne. No mere dungeon crawl, bashing goblins and picking locks. Boy had spent time working on the back-story, the character. Lots to gain and lots to lose.

But he figured on steering Hockey—the only one left in Boy's D&D group—throughout the twists and turns. He always did. Didn't appreciate the time and work Boy put in. Hockey just wanted to kill things and get drunk.

Boy turned on his stereo to listen to Sarah's tape again. He covered himself in the fur and stroked the sleeve, and listened to "Bela Lugosi's Dead."

The bats have left the bell tower. The victims have been bled. Red velvet lines the black box. Bela Lugosi's dead.

His fingers were buried in the fur. One found a rip in the pocket and his erect penis. His stroked it, eyes closed. He pinched the skin at the base hard just to feel it sting.

Undead, undead, the song said.

 

And Saturday, he waited in the window. They had planned 9. But Hockey never showed on time ever for anything. That's what Boy knew. Boy waited in the window and he wondered when Hockey'd show. He'd walk away from the window, but leave enough of himself there to always also be back. His belly would knot when he was waiting. For this. For other things: for Christmas morning, for the last bell of a school day. His belly knotted. And he waited in the window for his friend.

Hockey came and drank soda and played. And spiked the soda with the liquor from Boy's dad's cabinet, mixed suicides. Boy saved the vodka for himself, lingered on it to keep sharp, poured just a finger at a time. Hockey gorged on all of it, and pummeled his way through the game. His new character swung an axe at anything that moved and wasn't prone to meditating on consequences. Boy tried hard to rein him in.

Boy's grandparent left them to themselves all day. As they would do. Boy was smart. And got along well on his own. And he loved them. And they loved him. He didn't mind the space between he and them. No father he had ever known. Mother in Minneapolis, high on this or that.

He and Hockey smoked the cigars on the porch. Boy made fun of the way he played. Hockey made fun of Boy's plotline for the campaign. They passed a bag of chips between them.

Boy was sad to see him go. He said, "See you Monday."

 

Sunday, Boy went to church, though his grandparents had stopped attending. Sarah's dad took them. Her Milwaukee boyfriend, Caleb, was in the car.

Caleb had a head of quills for hair and an ear with ten earrings. He and Sarah sat close at church, and sang from the same hymnal. He hugged Boy when the minister told everyone to greet their neighbor and bid them peace, and when he held Boy, he held strong. Boy returned the hug, and hated Sarah for her luck.

But only for a moment.

After church, Sarah's dad gave her some money, and they walked to a diner called Tommy's to have coffee and an early lunch. They drank the coffee and talked, wasting the counter stools for a couple of hours.

Boy wanted to live in Milwaukee, and attend the arts high school. He had a stud in his ear, but now he wanted more. Hoops of silver. Thin chains of silver that attached to beads. A stretched hole with a thick, black plastic disc.

Caleb held Sarah's hand, and they kissed and shared a cigarette. Sarah had a golden, chin-length bob, and was wearing a dozen bracelets on her left hand. Caleb ordered more coffee and wore black polish on his fingers. Sarah took a drag and blew smoke into Caleb open mouth. Boy drew them on a napkin. "That's pretty good," said Caleb.

Sarah went to the bathroom. Caleb asked a question. Boy answered, saying out loud something he'd never said out loud.

"Can't be easy, living in a place like this. Sarah says you're a role-playing geek, too. I used to do that. You'd like Milwaukee High School of the Arts," he said. "You'd like it there. You should move."

"My family couldn't afford the tuition," Boy said. "Never in a million years. I'm here until I'm 18."

"Not long now, then," Caleb said. "I know someone you'd think was pretty cute. And, bonus, he's a geek, too." Caleb laughed, and Boy wiped spilled coffee off the table.

"Don't fuck with the dungeon master, Caleb," Boy said. Boy chewed a fingernail and smiled.

Sarah came back and asked if it was time to get out of there. She was talking to Caleb. Boy had disappeared. Boy had become the napkin holder. Sarah wanted to walk back to Caleb's dad's house.

"My grandpa's picking me up soon," said Boy. "I'll see you at school tomorrow." They left Tommy's and Boy watched them walk off. He sat on a bench and waited for his grandpa, who was late and grumpy when he arrived as if he had only just woken up.

 

"You can tell me stuff," Hockey said.

"We're friends," Hockey said.

"I'm just saying," Hockey said.

Hockey sang along to a song on the radio, sometimes adding the word kike and sometimes adding the word nigger to the songs, making himself laugh. When he did, Boy stared. "You only do that to bug me," Boy said. Hockey sang along with Aaron Neville:

"I don't know much. Cause I'm a nigger." Boy looked at Hockey and rolled his eyes.

Hockey smiled, and his bottom row of teeth had flakes of tobacco on them. You take the friends you can get.

 

Boy took a long walk late at night, and found himself under Hockey's window. He scooped up a snowball, but didn't throw it. Instead, he just sat down, his back against a fencepost. Instead, he sat and stared up at the window. Instead, he bumped his head against the fencepost, gently.

Hockey's driveway was protected by a rusting suit of armor, a statue his father had purchased. It was circled by a low, wooden fence. The tops of each post held a pyramid of gathered snow, and the driveway edges were a line of slush, banking the cleared asphalt. The house was newer than the others in the neighborhood, and had more glass, and a long, high roof.

Hockey's room had a little deck where Boy and Hockey would go to smoke when Boy slept over.

Boy hadn't slept over in a long time now that they were seniors.

 

Last summer, Boy let Hockey invite some friends over to play basketball at Boy's house. He had an old hoop, and a flatter driveway than Hockey. Boy sat the game out.

The game was shirts and skins, and it was hot. Hockey was tan and round—sort of fat, really, jiggling but also strong—and playing skins. Boy sat on the trunk of Hockey's car and smoked. The game was three on three, and Hockey played rough, throwing himself into the other players. No one called fouls. Hockey's friend Jason took an elbow and scraped his knee when he fell. Boy went inside and grabbed a clean towel.

Boy wiped at Jason's knee, and watched the muscle above the kneecap twitch. Jason smirked and leaned back a little, giving Hockey the finger. After a moment, he grabbed the towel and pushed Boy away.

They called him Nurse and laughed. Hockey called him Nurse and laughed. "Oh, Nurse?" They got in Hockey's car after, and drove around, dropping the friends off. Then, Boy and Hockey stole a couple of beers from Hockey's dad, and drove down to the beach.

 

On the ride in to school Monday, Boy told Hockey he had stopped by his house the night before. "It was, like, three, though, so I didn't want to wake you."

"What did you do?"

"Just had a smoke. I thought about waking you. I thought about it."

"You were there?"

"For, like, an hour or something. Just needed a walk."

Hockey told Boy he thought it was weird that he would do that.

And Boy told Hockey it was weird. And then, they talked about other weird things.

Hockey dropped Boy off at the door nearest his locker, and went to find a parking space.

A Lundberg—the shorter one—cornered Boy and pushed him into his locker.

Hockey came in and saw. And walked over. And laughed.

"Even your friend thinks you're a fag," said the Lundberg.

Boy went hot. And his knees shook.

"Dead. Your fighter's dead, Hockey," he said.

And Hockey hit him hard, breaking his nose. "Queer," he said.

 

A night near that one, Boy couldn't sleep and went out for a walk. He went out to the field and wore the fur coat. It was cold and his breath came out light grey in the bare light. Boy scanned the field, and held the coat tight.

The Lundberg brothers were somewhere. Boy heard a buzz somewhere distant. They were riding around. They were yelling to each other, but Boy couldn't tell what they were saying. He walked to the jack pines and blended into the trees—and went low down, on his hands and knees.

He pulled the fur closer. He pulled it closer. And it pulled closer. He was on his hands and knees. He was wrapped in fur. His arms felt long, his legs short. He heard a buzzing, getting closer. He heard the Lundbergs, getting closer. He was on his hands and knees, and he began to move. The Lundbergs came closer, and they yelled. Boy darted left, and they followed. Boy darted right, and they followed. They tried to keep up and they whooped. Boy darted. On his hands and knees, he gained distance on them. He hid in the trees, and pulled them along. He panted and darted. The Lundbergs fell back, trees in their way.

He smelled the snow, and the prickly, burning scent of gasoline. His ears cocked this way and that, he listened for the Lundbergs, and tumbled forward to get away. His eyes were dim and the world was gray, but he knew the scent of home, and keeping low between the trees, moved in that direction. He broke out of the trees, to the field—a strawberry field in spring and summer—and bolted across to his yard.

Boy got more distance, and he made it home. He went up to bed at four. The Lundbergs were still out, riding around, hooting to one another.

Boy walked to the window and watched them. They rode around and around, circling the field, kicking up snow. The taller Lundberg stood up on his four-wheeler, bouncing at the knees. The shorter Lundberg rode by him close. They searched, wove in and out of trees.

Boy stepped back from the window and let his eyes unfocus. He sat on his bed and let his eyes go unfocused. He leaned back, and the ground slipped out of his sight. He heard the Lundbergs yell, and saw the leafless tops of the trees, and the sparse clumps of black on the jack pines. He saw the sky, and the stars, and lost the ground completely. And he believed, for a moment, and then for longer, that the ground had disappeared. He lost the ground, and floated high above, safe.