The night was a darkness that felt very much his own. He was alone in it, and because there was no one else around, he stole all the industrial sized rolls of toilet paper from the park washroom, doused them in body spray, and lit them on fire.
Brodie’s eyes were crusty from all the crying. He was crying because all the smoke in his eyes. White rabbit. That’s what you say when the wind pushes it toward you. No one knows why or where it came from, you just say it and it hardly ever works. He was just staring at the fire, into the fire, waiting for Tim. Tim was bringing the beer, or the wine, or the whiskey. It wasn’t up to Tim what he was bringing but to his parent’s liquor cabinet, and he had about as much control over that as Brodie did with the direction of the smoke. Tim was brining drugs too, prescription drugs, a painkiller. It makes you feel like you have nothing to do for people who have nothing to do.
Brodie liked to watch the toilet paper burn. He liked to watch the snow melt and the fire bury itself. He liked the way it spewed smoke, like that volcano in Bali or someplace, he couldn’t remember where. He saw it on TV this one time. Flights were cancelled and there were images of people standing in airports beside their luggage. Some news lady put a microphone in their faces and everyone was all pissed at that volcano for ruining their vacation. Brodie thought it was pretty cool. He didn’t know volcano’s still did that, still blew up. He thought that was dinosaur stuff. And that city at the bottom of it, maybe the people who built that thought volcanos were dinosaur stuff too, or why else would they do that do themselves? Raising their kids on a bomb just waiting to go off.
Tim showed up hankering heat and he put his hands out over the fire.
Bring it? Brodie said.
Man, my mom. She drinks this stuff.
Nobody drinks that stuff.
Tim pulled out the pink bottle from inside his coat, twisted the cap and threw the cap into the fire. Soon the bottle was near empty and the fire almost out. Brodie threw another roll of toilet paper on the black stain of the old one and took from his coat the aerosol can of body spray. They watched the fire turn from a chemical blue to a hot red and Tim pulled from his coat a glass pipe, it’s chambers dark with resin from heavy usage, and gave it to Brodie. The pipes bowl was full of white chalky stuff. He put the bowl by his face and the lighter by the bowl, lit it, and he took it all in one breath, and when he let the smoke out it was lost in the darkness in front of his face. He was staring at Tim, waiting for his eyes to see the effects of what his head was already feeling. Then it happened. Tim was gone. Poof. And all his thoughts rushed him, like a cloud of smoke. White rabbit.
Dad wasn’t always there but he made sure the money was and that’s why he wasn’t there. Mom was around, sort of. She sat in her chair and took off her glasses, said things of small meaning and put her glasses back on. The dollar is up, she would say. The dollar is down. Brodie did not know which she preferred. He would enter the living room with his shoes on and say nothing of school because she never asked and he never went, but the dirt he left behind bothered her. There were no family pictures because they were only clutter. It was a home dedicated to space and the space was always empty. He did not spend much time there but instead spent it at the park, and sometimes Tim would be there and sometimes he wouldn’t be, and Brodie would just sit on the bleachers, smoking. When he was out of smokes he would stand outside the convenience store with exact change in his fist and ask whoever might be going in if they could pick him up a pack of cigarettes.
What kind? They would ask.
Peter Jackson’s is what my daddy used to smoke, He said the first time. Could not believe he just said ’daddy.’
At the park he might watch girls and he might call to them if he felt like it. He would say something, say it sweetly, and mean what he said. Some passed often, and got to know his name, and they would say his name, and he would say their name, if he knew it, and he almost always did, because he thought often of those who took the time to know him, even if it was only his name.
Brodie wished to know more about this one named Meredith. She walked her dog, a golden retriever, by the place where he sat. He complimented her on her dog. She thanked him on behalf of the dog. She threw the dog’s lead on a post near to him and sat even nearer. She pressed her skirt against her thighs, so as to clear it of dog hair and creases. Her dog was whining and for a moment it was the only sound until Meredith told her dog to shut it, and it did. She wanted to know what Brodie did here all these days.
I could ask you the same, He said.
She shook her head. Her place in the park was clear. It was part Dog Park and she was a dog owner. She asked him her question again.
This park is far enough from the school I am supposed to be in and close enough to the home I never go to.
Where is your home?
Mine too, only a bit more this way.
She gripped his arm and pulled it toward her, his arm remained straight, and had he been looking, his finger would lead his gaze to where she lived, but he was not looking there but at her. She released him.
Your parents rich? She said.
Your parents. They rich or something?
Yeah. I think so. I don’t know. Maybe.
All the houses over that way are so big.
They talked of the things that were closest to them. Things they saw there in front of them, like the trees, the dog, the clouds, brought up only to keep together their conversation which at first was like patch work. And soon, all that was around them had already been said, talked about, and they were left with only each other, and once this happened they had to look deeper. They spoke of things they could not see. They spoke of their parents.
I had braces for two years, Brodie said, and for two years my mom told me not to smile.
They do not want me around, Meredith said. They don’t love me. It may not be true but it’s what I feel, though increasingly I cannot see the difference between these two. It’s in spite of me that they remain together as a form a torture to me, but it is also because of me that they stay together, as a form of torture to themselves. It makes perfect sense inside my head.
Feelings are more real than truth, Brodie said.
Feelings are truth, Meredith said.
They met here most days forward from this day. Soon she no longer brought the dog but she came all the same. He made no change to his days but how these days felt was different, new. He thought of things to say so that when it was quiet he had something to say. He thought of things to ask. He started writing these things on his forearm, as if he was cheating on a test, a test where the answers didn’t matter so much, only the questions did.
What’s that on your arm? She said.
He studied these questions and he studied her eyes, her eyes were serious, and what was serious about them was their darkness. He stared at them for a time, for a long time, then he looked away and stared a second time. But it wasn’t so long this time because her face was quickly up against his, and then he couldn’t see anything at all. He had closed his eyes and he didn’t know why. It was like some knee jerk reaction. They were kissing and it wasn’t clear at first because his eyes were closed but it soon became clear to him. He wanted to see the kiss. What it truly looked like. But he only knew how it felt. And it felt pretty good.
You fuck her? Tim asked. Tim was scoping out a spot to take a piss in the already wet street, black and reflecting and quiet. He had taken a 26er of Captain Morgan’s rum from the cabinet and he and Brodie had split it up in litre Coke bottles, bought for a dollar at the gas station, and they were walking with the bottles in their hands and their faces wet from the rain already fallen.
Yeah, Brodie said. He hadn’t. But he thought it only a matter of time. He thought he wasn’t lying because soon his lie would be out run by the truth, overtaken. Then he thought of actually doing what he had just lied about and it scared him. They were balancing on the bump of the curb, one behind the other, and cars passed them and when they did, the two of them were lit up as bright as day. They started veering into the centre of the road and they played off their imbalance by holding one another by the shoulder, as if what was being said between them was what was said between brothers. Cars honked.
She’s coming over, Brodie said. When my parents leave.
Tim took from his bottle the dregs of what was in it. He stopped beneath a street lamp and stood still a second as if thinking something deep inside him somewhere. I still have to pee, he said. I feel powerless when I have to pee.
So pee then.
Do you think you have power.
I don’t think I have anything.
You have power. Everyone has power. Power to do something.
I don’t know. Something.
Can someone take your power from you?
Of course someone can. Like take your power to choose and make you think you can’t choose and suddenly you are powerless to choose because there is no choice.
What if I told you I was lying about fucking her?
Where you lying?
I can choose to believe you or not. You hold the power because you hold the answer.
But the answer is not so important, Brodie said. You can’t always know the answer. The question is what you need. With the question you at least have something. You have the question. But if I take away the question then you have nothing. Once you stop asking, that’s when you are powerless to do anything. Every question you ask makes you more powerful. Forget about the answers.
I got power too.
I can stop cars with my own two hands.
You mean die.
Of course I could.
Is that what you intend to do?
Hardly, but what I intend to do and what really happens almost never add up. So my thinking is this: I’ll do one or the other. I’ll either die, or I’ll stop the car, or both, I guess, only I won’t live to see that. Death would be the consequence to the power. There is always a consequence. The consequence to a question is not always its answer, though sometimes we expect it to be. But there is going to be a consequence, no matter what. We can live without the answer, but an answer can’t live without the question. You don’t walk away from nothing unchanged.
Let’s see it then.
Tim turned and walked backwards, and as he did a car came toward them both and Tim careened toward the centre of the lane and the headlights came at him until his colours and features were missing in the whiteness of the beam, and he put out his hands like he was the walking dead. And for a second he could see the face of the driver, like the face of death, and the mouth of death was moving to the words of some song on the radio. The car swerved and let out a kind of scream but it was lost in Brodie’s own scream, as he watched Tim standing in the sudden darkness, untouched. The car had stopped on the other side of the road and the driver was getting out and Tim turned to Brodie and looked down as if to see if all of him was still there. All of him was. He put his fist above his head in the way of someone championing something. Brodie was only staring at Tim’s pants. He had pissed himself.
Meredith came walking down the cold stone walk way, leading to the cold stone steps, wearing a dress Brodie had never seen her in before, a very grey shade of blue or maybe even a blue shade of grey, hard to say in that light and even harder to say once her clothes were off and fallen on the floor, lost somewhere beneath them. Then they were in his bed and he felt certain then that this was the first time it felt good to be home. What they did then they did many times afterward, and Brodie would rise between takes and walk to the kitchen were he would fill two glasses with water dispensed from the fridge, return upstairs careful not to spill, and when he would hand her the sweating glass she would smile. They hadn’t said a word to one another. Or maybe they had. Everything was lost in the sheets. She was looking for something in the in the tucks and folds. She produced a small purse and from the purse she took a pipe, and with the pipe was a baggie from which she pinched white powder. She packed the bowl with it. She handed it to him and he took it and smoked it right then. He asked nothing.
It’s a pain killer, She said. Prescription stuff.
He thought a moment about this and then the moment passed and he could think no more. On his back, he stared up at a detailed blankness that he soon discovered was the ceiling, with it’s dots and splotches, seemingly lowered to a place that he could almost reach if he could move but he could not move. He tried to tell her to make it stop but he couldn’t get the words out. He could not keep his eyes open and he could not close them. He heard sounds, he wasn’t sure what, sounded like movement, but he would later think about this and tell himself that sound was only movement, and that was all it ever could be, and so that’s what it must have been. Then he could hear no sound from anywhere and he knew for certain that he was alone, and he knew it because he felt it. Poof. She was gone. All night he did not budge. He had heard of drug experiences like this one. Read about them somewhere, maybe. Or not read, he didn’t read. Defiantly heard from someone. He could not remember if he was told it was a good thing or a bad thing or just a thing, this whole not-being-able-to-move-thing. How long was it supposed to last? Maybe forever. Maybe he was paralysed and he would be so from here on out. But he was not thinking this then. This came to mind some time later. Thoughts did not lead to one another but he was lead to thoughts, like a dog yanked by the collar to scenes it could not understand, and the thoughts were abandoned just as they were beginning to become clear. If he slept he could not remember sleeping, and if he remembered anything it was a dream.
Morning, and he reached for a cigarette and he knew it was over. He crawled naked to the shower and dropped his chest and arms over the edge of the tub and set the water cold on his head. He moved about the house holding a towel at his waist looking in every room hoping he might find her but he knew he wouldn’t find her. He called out her name. The house felt empty and this was not because he felt empty, although he did, but because the house always felt this way. He dropped his towel and walked through the rooms, through the halls, wearing nothing, and he wasn’t sure how to feel. Cold. That’s how he felt. He called her on his phone and nothing. He sat on the couch in the living room and turned on the TV. The dollar was up. He watched a volcano explode and people scream for their lives but he didn’t hear a thing because he had it on mute.
He was sitting in the snow with his knees up to his chest and his head between his knees and his arms wrapped around his knees, and he raised his face to the fire, and his face was sweating and Tim was watching him from across the fire.
Good shit, huh, Tim said.
Brodie didn’t say anything. He grabbed the bottle but the bottle was empty. Then he grabbed a handful of snow and put it in his mouth and let it sit on his tongue and melt until it almost felt like he had a drink of water.
I didn’t feel anything, He said. Where are my shoes?
You threw them in the fire.
I did what?
What do you mean you didn’t feel anything? You totally felt something.
Where are my shoes, man? It’s freezing.
I told you. In the fire.
There was a car pulling into the park, the headlights swung and stopped on the two of them and they stood to meet the brightness, with their eyes squinted and their hands over their eyes, and for a moment everything was still.
Who is that? Tim said.
They tried to look through the light but the light was up against them hard, like they were put before a wall and trying to stare through the brick.
Are we dying? Tim said.
Why would we be dying?
I’m going to walk towards the light.
Don’t walk towards the light.
Tim started walking toward the light with his hands out in front of him to feel his way through the light, for he could not see a thing but the light itself. Brodie tried to grab him but he fell over and laid on his stomach in the snow, and from there he watched his friend walk ahead of him until he disappeared and there was nothing but the light, and Brodie was alone in it. It felt like he was there for hours and he thought about dad and he thought about mom and he thought if he were to die what would they have to say about it. He heard someone running toward him and he raised his face to the noise and squinted his eyes and tried to see. It was Tim.
It’s the cops!
Brodie was up and gone. He hated running because all the breath, all the shortness of it, like there wasn’t enough of it, the sweat, the pain, the whole thing. He could not see where he was going and could not see Tim. He was barefoot and the snow was cold but he didn’t mind the cold so much as the other stuff, the sharp things. The sticks and so forth. He was running through a thicket and he was running up a hill and he didn’t know how far he had to run but only that he had to run. He called out for Tim but he heard nothing in return, and then he stopped yelling because it was making him even more tired. The lights were far gone behind him now. He made it to the top of the hill and there was a clearing and he stopped there and leaned on his knees, and at first heard only his breathing, and he tried to cut his breathing short to get a good listen on the night. He heard nothing but his heart beating fast. He tried to cut that out too, but he could not. Then he heard the highway and that was all. He could see the lake and the lights on the lake from the factories by the lake, and he could see the homes and the city even further on. He looked up and could see a star and then he looked longer and thought he could make out maybe two more but that was all. The hill was called Kentucky Hill because there used to be a KFC on top of it so they called it that, no one knows who did, but only that they did. Now there was no more KFC, but the hill was still there and its name never changed. He sat down in the snow against the boarded up remains of the KFC and held his feet in his hands but he could not feel his feet and soon he could not feel his hands. He could see the sky paling and turning bluish. The sun was coming up. He always forgot what direction it was coming from. It was always a question in his mind and he had to think about it. He was shivering but soon he stopped shivering and his heart quieted down and went real slow like it was finally letting him think. He thought a while but then forgot about it, because it didn’t matter so much once the sun was up what direction it was coming from, but only that it was up. And he watched it until he had to close his eyes.
Paul Luckhart is a twenty three year old short story writer from Toronto, and the youngest of six children. He currently lives in Tasmania where he works and runs a small book shop outside his home.