Stories

Footsteps in the Rain: An excerpt.

I have had two books sitting on my hard drive for nearly ten years. I’m sick of sitting on them. I’m in the midst of reworking both. This is from the more recent of the two–a YA novel about a teenage boy with an eating disorder. To my knowledge, there is absolutely no fictional book on this subject.

 

6 February

Having the lights out helps to clear my head. No heaps of boy-body, dust, glare.  Sense. This is how I find help. Through defense. No slander to your (nonexistent) name.

I took the challenge. It didn’t threaten my resolve—none of them did. Not Joe, up every second to pace and stretch muscles like a lion, not Josh, twitchy and taunting and thoroughly out of sync, not Mark, basic and thoughtful but smoldering, weak. Straight vodka was clear enough to get me talking back to them, but as things wound toward the night I just got bored.

We were talking up some recent movie when the doorbell rang, suspiciously hesitant. No mother, not yet; no sister, not tonight; so I yanked the front door, doubled backward from the smell. A Mexican kid waving a hot box around. Pizza logo on the hat. Bright red and beaming.

No one had told me.

As the three split the bill for two large boxes, I hung back feeling threatened. But never ignored, no, that would be too much to ask for.

“Hope you like olives, I couldn’t remember,” said Joe. “They taste better when you’re drunk.”

The tops were flung open. I stared dully at the table, hand on my stomach, as if in protection.

“Drink too much Kale?” Mark was eyeing my expression, somewhere inside the nausea spectrum. Towards the accusatory end. The clear liquid fucked with me, betraying my cause. But I held fast to your hand.

“Don’t want any,” I said, slightly slurring, vodka less filling (more satisfying) than beer. Someone had talked me into sharing a sandwich at lunch. I wasn’t about to let go again.

“Dude.” This Joe, maybe remembering the video game day. “Fucking eat something already. How can you not be hungry?”

I thought briefly about dismissing the question, but the clear drink got in the way. I don’t have to hide this, it said. We have a history. You and I—we’re not afraid.

I looked at them like they were strangers. “It’s not that I’m not hungry,” I said, choosing my words carefully. “I just don’t want to eat.”

“Why not?”

Mark seemed genuinely curious. He clawed open my closed opinions. Suddenly I was sharing things I didn’t expect.

And I’m sorry. I blame the drink, however clear.

“Don’t you ever feel like…” My mouth felt sore. “Like things don’t make sense?”

“Well sure,” said Mark. “Life is fucked up.”

Josh and Joe were pulling cheese off their plates and licking the grease. I tried again. “Is there anything you can do just for yourself?”

I still don’t know what I was thinking. Trying to get someone to understand. As useless as classroom empathy. Feigned.

“I don’t feel like my life is really mine,” I mumbled. “My future’s being manipulated by other people. And this fucking city doesn’t care.”

“I grew up here, though,” said Mark. “Maybe that’s the difference.” Still couldn’t see the sway of the conversation.

“We’re watching ‘Alien’,” yelled Josh from the TV room.

I put my chin into my hand, feeling the fuzz. “It’s… my way of waiting,” I said, cringing even as the words came out. “I can be a chameleon. I fit all sorts of stereotypes. But nobody can tell me what to do with my food. My stomach—it’s mine.

God it sounds stupid out loud. Like I’m hearing voices, like a ward patient. But your insistence is even more real than theirs. Your thin, hollow existence. More persuasive than his.

He looked at me, past me, right through me, and grinned.

“You are one crazy fuck,” he said.

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