You are reading Fiddleblack #5
None of our parents can afford houses with swimming pools. But then again none of these people can afford them either, otherwise their places wouldn’t be in fucking foreclosure and we wouldn’t descend on their backyards like so many rats with skateboards. Jelly’s mother was a real estate agent before, but she couldn’t sell squat and ended up a receptionist for a low-rent dentist. No movie star mouths for that doc, strictly under-nourished Mexican kids with bad teeth and worse attitudes. Of course, Jelly’s mom has a job, which is more than most of our moms can say. Luther’s mom sits around the house drinking Diet Coke and smoking cigarettes that smell like burning rubber. My mom watches a lot of reality TV. Our dads all have jobs, but nobody’s counting on a huge Christmas haul. It’s early December and a few years ago, when we were all still kids, we would have been stoked about Santa and his shit.
Now we get stoked about this: cruising Thousand Oaks for empty houses with emptier pools. Jelly’s mom calls it Thousand Jokes and leaves the listings on her kitchen table, but she’s just pissed she couldn’t get into the market here. None of us are from T.O., but Luther knows the area because his grandparents lived here when he was little and he’s never gotten over it. The rest of us dig it because these vacant pools make great instant skate parks. No shit. The best finds are empties with empties on either side; nobody to hear us, nobody to call the cops. With Jelly’s mom’s map and some gas in my car, we’re set for the search.
Cameron brings the lamps, big flashlights his stupid brother Cody bought at REI for a camping trip when he thought he was going to get laid. He didn’t. Cody couldn’t get laid if he had a million dollars and drunk skeeze. So the lights are big—I guess he wanted to fuck the girl in daylight at midnight—and not too heavy. We like to set one on the diving board and one on the shallow end. It’s enough to let us see, though most of us could do it in the dark. I mean, I’m not the best rider, only the second best, Jelly’s the best, but even Luther wouldn’t kill himself if we didn’t have Cameron’s lamps. Cameron’s okay. He’s got enough coordination not to kill himself, if you know what I mean.
This place is on a cul-de-sac with as many “for sale” signs as trees. It’s beautiful. It’s so vacant we set up the music, too. We’re into old school—Black Flag, Hüsker Dü, Butthole Surfers, Sublime—music our parents might have known once but we didn’t think about that. It’s stuff we play to freak out the shitheads we go to school with, so much Taylor Swift coming at you we want to puke in her curls every time we hear it.
We hadn’t seen Cameron in a week because he had mono and he looked like a dead guy, seriously skinnier than his already-skinny and his hair was shedding, I swear, like a chemo patient. His hair’s long and lank anyway and when he cuts back and forth across the bottom of the pool—a good one, kidney-shaped but long, with a huge slope for the deep end, a real toddler-drowner—I swear his hair is falling out all over. I saw a Ginger Rogers movie with my mom once where Ginger’s dress shed all over. It’s like that. Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating, but we popped some mushrooms about an hour before and I swear the bottom of the pool’s covered in Cameron’s ratty blond hair. You ever get into a bathtub and find somebody else’s hair, probably their pubes, in the tub? Gross, gross, gross. It’s like that.
Cameron keeps rolling, occasionally falling, grunting “mother-fucker,” now and then. Luther’s eyes are glazed and he’s in charge of the tunes, and his head bobs in time. Luther’s a would-be drummer, if he owned drums or had the energy to practice. He doesn’t have either. That’s when Jelly shows up with two things: the baby Jesus and an electric guitar. He holds them both over his head when he comes around the back of the house. He shouts at us from across the fence, tosses the doll over the top and then hops over himself, the neck of the guitar slung across his shoulder. Shit, he looks like Robin Hood coming over the top, a big grin. Yeah, I can see it. Cameron’s flashlights aim at the pool, but Jelly’s smile is huge. Girls dig it. He’s the only one of us with experience. Yeah, he’s been to Funkytown.
“What the fuck is that?” I’m sitting on the steps leading into the shallow end, my board under my green checkered Vans.
“The Messiah,” Jelly says and sets the doll on the diving board next to the lamp. “Just follow the star, see? He’s right where he belongs.”
“I know what that is.” Jelly’s been stealing Jesuses out of crèche scenes for a week. From in front of every church in the valley, from people’s houses. He has about a dozen, even in different ethnicities. Most of them are little whiteys, but he has two black ones and one that could pass for Asian, but might just be from a fucked-up mold, the plastic around its eyes kinda slanty, but kinda not. I think Jelly is looking for one like him, half white, half black. My favorite piece isn’t the baby itself, but the sign one of the owners put in the manger the night after Jelly’s stolen their savior. “Christmas Isn’t Christmas Without the Baby Jesus” in big, neat black Sharpie lines on white posterboard. Jelly stole that, too. It’s in his bedroom now. He has the orphanage of Jesuses there, too.
“No, not that,” I say. “That.”
“That’s a guitar,” Luther announces, like he’s saying something profound.
“No kidding.” I push Luther’s shoulder and he just closes his eyes. “Numb nuts.”
Jelly sits cross-legged next to me and brings the guitar to his lap in one smooth descent. He’s like that, graceful. “I’m borrowing it,” he says.
“Uh, from who?”
“Your dad plays guitar?”
“I guess. I found it in the basement today. He’s got so much crap down there, he’ll never miss it.”
Jelly strums a slow chord and the strings chime off-key.
“Nice,” I say.
Jelly shrugs. “I have to tune it.”
“Whatever,” I say. Cameron trips off his board. Jelly and I laugh.
We can hear the cars before they pull into the drive, a pair of old Jeeps, and we know who it is. It’s Cody and his meathead friends. Football players, mostly, but not the good ones, not the ones who go off to play college. These guys, Cody included, would be lucky to get into community college. But this is their time, starting spots on Friday night. None of us would ever get it, even if we wanted it, which we don’t. But Cody’s arrival means more than jocks—it means something is going to be a hassle. It always is with Cody. Cody torments Cameron every minute of the day and none of us knows why. Brothers. I guess I’m lucky not to have one. Jelly’s an only, too. Luther’s got a slew of siblings, half-thises and half-thats. I can’t keep’em straight. I bet he can’t either.
Sure enough, Cody shows up with four of his buds, big Uglies, and a pair of girls. Cody’s a senior, but the girls are our age. Tara Kendrick and Teresa Nunez. Tara we’d gone to school with all our lives, from elementary on, a pale redhead with a squeaky voice and a big butt. Cameron always kind of liked her, but he never made a move or anything. Teresa moved to the neighborhood when we were in sixth grade. I remember the white pants and peach top she was wearing when the teacher introduced her. She was probably from somewhere nearby, nothing exotic, but from that moment she was exotic to me. In four and a half years we’d said hi maybe a dozen times. She’s out of my league. She doesn’t really know I’m alive. Seeing her with Cody and his friends makes me want to bash my head against the cement, just dive right in. I don’t, but don’t think I didn’t think about it. Cameron quits rolling and stands with his board in both arms across his chest, the wheels still spinning.
“What’s up, Cody?”
Cody smiles. He’s got great teeth, no thanks to braces. He was just born with them, like a well-fed wolf. “Nice place you got here. Mind if we borrow it for a while?”
“We’re kinda busy,” Cameron says.
“Busy?” Cody laughs. “When you’re done skating, are you dongs gonna have a big game of Chutes and Ladders?” One of the stooges hands a brown bag to Cody, like he’s been grocery shopping. Yeah, these guys are so domestic. I almost tell’em that, but I don’t and curl my tongue instead. It’s a bad habit. My mother says I look like a monkey when I do it. Oo-ooh.
Cameron’s flipped his hoodie over his head so he looks like a monk and he drops his board back to the pool and rolls it back and forth, catching it on the front, tipping it back. “What’s in the bag? You bring enough for us?”
“We didn’t bring any for you, little brother.”
One of the big guys laughs. “Maybe after.”
Cody guffaws. “Yeah, after, if they want to. We get first dibs.”
Cameron shakes his head. “If you don’t want to share, fine. You got forty-ouncers in there? How many?”
Cody ignores his brother and points at me and Jelly. “You two, you gotta work for us tonight.”
“Work?” Jelly doesn’t look up from the guitar. “As in money?” The strings don’t sound any better but he hits another chord and the mis-jangle seems right, like he’s flipping Cody the bird. Cody doesn’t hear it.
“Yeah, well, not work. It’s volunteer. But you’re gonna do it. We need you guys to watch the front of the house. You see cops, anybody, you come upstairs and get us.”
“We’re gonna do a little filming.”
Cody pulls a video camera out of the paper bag and aims it at us, like he’s shooting us with a gun, but then swings around to the girls. They both giggle. I didn’t realize it before, but they’re both pretty gone. Tara’s eyes are squinty and Teresa’s weaving, her skinny legs holding her up with some weird sway. They’re both wearing tight jeans and t-shirts. I think I get what Cody’s saying, but I pretend not to. I watch the light in the pool flicker around Cameron. Baby Jesus has toppled and is sleeping on his side. His face is in the dark now.
“Shit, Cody, is that dad’s camera?”
“Yeah,” Cody says. “I’m borrowing it.”
“He’ll kill you if he finds out.”
“He won’t find out, will he?”
“Why is everybody stealing from their dads tonight?” No one hears me.
Jelly finally looks up from the guitar. “You’re gonna film something? Like what?”
“That’s for us to know and you to guess, little man.” Cody nods to the house and the other dudes start walking to the back porch. There’s a door there, probably to a kitchen, but we didn’t check it out. We don’t ever go in the houses. Luther’s a stoner, but he made some smart rules when we first started doing this. No breaking and entering. No littering. We pick up anything we bring and we never vandalize. We’ve found pools after a different troop has been through, graffiti on the cement, broken windows. That’s not cool. That’s the way to get cops to bust you. We have a pump and hose in the trunk of my car and we suck the sludge out if the pools haven’t been drained right. We rake leaves some times. We’re trespassing, but we’re clean. We even make the places better. Cody’s gonna break one of Luther’s big rules and not one of us moves.
“Isn’t there any beer in that bag?” Tara says, pulling at Cody’s arm. “You said there’d be more drinks.”
“Don’t,” Cody says, shrugging her away. “If I break this thing, Cameron will tell on me.” He smirks. “Baby.” I’m not sure who that’s directed at—his little brother or Tara—but he bends back to the bag and pulls out a clear glass pint. “Schnapps for you, Tara. ‘Cause I know you’re fresh and minty.”
“Oh,” she squeals and lunges for the bottle. He holds it just out of reach and skips to the porch laughing. Tara chases him, giggling again. Teresa stands still, studying the pool.
“Is there a doll on the diving board?” She’s wearing one of those mini hoodies girls like, the sort that only come half way to where they’re supposed to, and she has her hands tucked in the pockets. Her t-shirt is too short too and I can see a flash of her stomach. I look over her head. The sky is clear. There’s a sliver of moon, like a lost fingernail. Some big-ass fingernail, an ogre’s fingernail, some mother of a space ogre. I will not think about Teresa’s stomach or what’s beneath it or above it.
Glass breaks on the porch and one of Cody’s friend says, “Victory!” like he’s scored. More tinkling glass and they go inside. They leave the door open. Somebody once lived here and maybe they had an indoor cat. Don’t leave the door open or Muffin will escape. Kids, how many times have I told you, shut the door? Are we air conditioning the whole neighborhood? Shut the damn door, ‘kay? Open doors bug the crap out of me.
Teresa sees me watching the house and then follows my gaze up. “Moon,” she says.
“That’s Jesus,” Jelly says.
“I’m pretty sure that’s the moon,” Teresa says, glancing at Jelly. They lock eyes for a second and I feel like I’m watching a movie, just for a moment, and then I’m back in my life.
“On the board. That’s the baby Jesus.”
“Oh,” Teresa says. She flips her long hair over one shoulder. “Of course.”
Jelly points the neck of the guitar to the house. “You going inside?”
Teresa shrugs. “It’s what I came for.”
“Really?” Jelly shakes his head. “Like, this is all planned out?”
Teresa nods. “Cody says there’s money in this. He knows a website. Like, he’s paying us. This isn’t any freebie.”
Luther moans, not in pain, but like he’s doing geometry. “Oh,” he says. “That’s better.”
Jelly laughs. “Luther’s got a point. That still doesn’t make it sound, um, like a good idea.”
“You guys got a better idea? ‘Cause I heard about girls making real money doing this. You guys look to be sitting on your asses doing nothing. I’m doing something.”
Jelly goes back to the guitar. “Yeah. Doing something is always better than doing nothing. Except when it’s doing Cody.”
Teresa shakes her head. “It’s not what you think. I’m not doing anything with Cody. Tara and I will do a little dance. A little strip. That’s it.”
“Sure,” Jelly says. “You dance. That’s it. It’s cool.”
“Fuck you,” Teresa says. “You guys are babies.” She turns and tries to stomp across the lawn but she’s wearing flip-flops and the grass just isn’t loud enough for stomping. It loses its effect, you know?
“Feliz Navidad,” Jelly says.
“Yeah,” Teresa calls over her shoulder, flipping him off, her arm high over her head. Okay, flipping us all off, but it feels more directed at Jelly. I don’t think she really cares enough to flip me off. “Merry Christmas.”
Cameron stands on his board in the middle of the pool. He’s watching the house. We can hear them laugh inside, then lights go on upstairs. There aren’t any curtains so we can see Cody in front of one of the bedroom windows, looking down on us. Then he steps back and all we can see are the beige walls, the beige ceiling.
“How’d they do that?” I say. “Isn’t the electricity off? Who leaves their house with electricity?”
Cameron scoffs. “You don’t know my brother. He’s magic. Whatever he wants, he gets. Of course the electricity is on. He wanted it.”
Luther stands and sways. “Well, he’s bound for disappointment. It’s much better to want whatever you get. You can’t always get what you want.”
“Thank you, Mick Jagger,” Jelly says.
“What?” Luther sways some more.
“Nothing,” Jelly says, standing too. “I need some water. I’m going to the kitchen.”
“Don’t go in there,” Cameron says. “Cody’s up to something.”
There are shadows on the beige ceiling, swerving dark clouds. “You really think the girls will do something on camera?” I look away.
Jelly shrugs. “If somebody offered you money right now, what would you do?”
“Nobody wants to see his junk,” Luther says. “I mean, really.”
“How about you, Luth? You game for some action if somebody pays you?”
“Oh, shit yeah. I’m wanted all over the universe.” Luther trudges toward the porch and Jelly jogs to him, guitar over his shoulder again, and they go into the house.
“I’m not going in there,” Cameron says. “I don’t want to see it.”
“It won’t be anything. Those girls are going to drink Cody’s booze and then say no way. Teresa’s not dumb.”
Cameron pushes off and rolls to the deep end. “Cody gets what Cody wants.”
Luther stumbles out of the kitchen with one of the Uglies holding him in a headlock.
“Let me go,” Luther croaks. “Fuck toad.”
The Ugly rubs Luther’s scalp and laughs. “Don’t go in the house, loser. It’s our house now.” He pushes Luther away and Luther rolls onto the grass. Jelly is watching from the doorway. Another Ugly is behind him.
“You,” the first Ugly points at me. “You come here.”
Cameron keeps rolling. I look at his back, want him to turn around, but he doesn’t.
“You deaf?” the Ugly shouts.
Jelly steps to his side. “Come here. They don’t bite.” Jelly pats the Ugly’s arm. “Nice pussy.”
The Ugly glares at Jelly. “Call me a pussy again and I’ll kill you.”
Jelly smiles at him. “I meant it as a compliment.”
“Shut up,” the second Ugly says. “Cody wants you guys to watch the front of house. No visitors, got it?” He grabs my arm, digging his fingers to the bone beneath my bicep. It hurts but I don’t let on. “Cameron, you got the back. Anybody show up, let us know.”
Cameron doesn’t say anything.
“The kid’s a pissant,” the first Ugly says. “Cody should beat him down.”
Jelly points to the diving board. “Be nice. Jesus is watching.”
The Uglies look at the doll.
“You’re a weird little turd,” the second Ugly says. “Go.”
The Uglies go back into the dark kitchen and Jelly and I walk around the front of the house. My beater is there in the driveway, more rust than car, and Cody’s Jeep and one of the Ugly’s identical ones are blocking me in.
“Matching cars,” Jelly says. “That’s sweet. I wonder if they wear matching undies, too.”
“You should ask Cody that. I’m sure he’d appreciate your curiosity.”
We sit on the steps. It’s a pretty cool house, way better than anything my folks ever owned. There’s a porch out here in the front and the driveway rises, the house set on a small incline. There’s not much front lawn, and we watch the dead end leading out to the cross street. The only houses with lights are on the end of the block. This end is dark, which is good for Cody, right? He can probably do whatever he wants in there and nobody will come looking.
“What do you think they’re doing?” I look at Jelly. He’s staring down the quiet street. The guitar is in his lap again.
“Why do you care? Stupid girls.”
I want to ask him if he knows Teresa, I mean, knows her like talks to her. But I don’t want to know.
“It’s kinda gross, you know?” I say. My left shoe is tearing at the big toe. I pull at the fabric and make the hole a little bit bigger. That’s dumb, so I stop. Then I pull at it a little more.
“Yeah, it’s gross,” Jelly says. “Do you think my dad knows how to play this thing?”
“Maybe. Why else would he have it?”
“People own all sorts of stuff that don’t know how to use.”
“Yeah,” I say.
There’s a squeal from the house and Jelly stiffens. “I’m gonna go see what’s up.”
“Cody told us to be lookouts.”
“Is Cody your boss? Fuck Cody.”
There’s a lockbox on the front door, but Jelly shakes the handle anyway. It doesn’t budge. He starts around the back way again and pauses. “Bring the guitar.”
I don’t move.
“Just bring it to me. You don’t have to go inside.”
I grab the neck and it’s skinnier than I imagined. My hand wraps around the strings. I’ve never held an instrument before. It’s lighter than I imagined, too.
Jelly disappears around the corner and I follow him. He passes the kitchen windows and taps one pane, idly, not like he’s doing something. Cameron and Luther are both in the pool now, Cameron making circles around Luther, who’s standing with his arms raised like a T and laughing. “I’m a scarecrow,” he says.
“Of course,” I say. “Keep scaring.”
I follow Jelly into the kitchen. It’s wide open, nothing but counters and open cabinets, all the doors flung open like so many mouths. There’s a big space where the refrigerator would go and another where the stove must have been. The floor is roughed up until you get to those gaps, then the walls are paler, even in the dim light. We go into a darker room, and I can’t see squat. Maybe this was a dining room. Jelly’s walking like he knows the house, like he lives here, but he stops at the foot of the stairs and waves his hand.
“Give me the guitar,” he whispers. There’s music thumping upstairs, not the sort we listen to. Some techno-shit. Lots of bass, lots of drums. I can hear Cody’s voice, giving directions. The Uglies are laughing. I can’t hear either of the girls.
“What? You gonna wack somebody with it?” I hand it to him.
He humpfs and says, “You’re right. I don’t want it to get busted.” He leans it against the wall. We’re by the front door. We should be on the other side, sitting on the stoop, not in here, looking for what? For Cody to kill us. “I’ll get it on the way out,” he says.
I imagine our exit might not be so neat, us strolling down the staircase, Jelly pausing to grab the guitar and sling it over his shoulder like a wandering minstrel before we whistle our way to my car. I see us getting tossed on our heads, bouncing down the stairs like cartoon characters, with the Uglies stomping on us after we land, big foot after big foot, just for good measure. I see Cody lifting the guitar and smacking it over Jelly’s frizzy head. But the guitar doesn’t break, it bends and the neck takes the shape of Jelly’s skull, a snake with a rabbit in its belly—flat line—hump—flat line. Jelly’s tongue juts out and he shakes his head, stars and birdies circling him. That doesn’t seem so bad. No blood, no foul. Not so bad.
When we get to the top of the stairs, there’s light coming from two rooms, a bathroom and a bedroom. The music’s louder and Cody’s saying, “Yeah, baby, that’s it, baby.” We creep to the bedroom door and Jelly peeks around the corner. He looks back at me and nods. He bolts across the open doorway and presses himself against the wall again like a spy in a movie. I wait for the shouting, but it doesn’t happen. I peer around the corner.
The Uglies are standing in the middle of the room with their backs to us. One of them has the camera and he’s aiming it at Cody, who’s standing beyond them. I can’t really see him, but I can see his pants are down around his ankles and one of the girls is kneeling in front of him. Cody’s grunting and saying, “Yeah,” like his brain is frozen on one word. I look away and think about getting sick but I’m kind of turned on at the same time. I don’t know what to think. I hear the girl mumble something and one of the Uglies says, “Save some room for me, Tara,” and my stomach unclenches a little. Jelly’s watching me, then looks to the bathroom. Teresa stands in the doorway, her hoodie and pants off. She’s wearing her little pink t-shirt and yellow panties. She looks at us like she doesn’t really see us. She looks like she’s listening to something far away. Then she shakes her head.
“You shouldn’t be up here,” she says, way too loud. Jelly runs to her and slaps his hand over her mouth. I look in the bedroom but there’s too much going on in there for them to have heard her. Jelly is holding Teresa and she’s kicking at his legs.
“Ouch,” Jelly pulls his hand away. “Don’t bite me, bitch.”
“Screw you,” Teresa says. Jelly’s holding her shoulders and she’s wrestling him.
“Come with us,” Jelly says. His voice is low. “Come with us. You don’t have to do this.”
Teresa stops moving and looks at Jelly. I’m not even in the hall, I’m not in the house, I’m not on the planet. They keep looking at each other and I keep looking at them. It seems to last an hour. For a second I think they’re going to kiss.
“What do you know about what I have to do?”
Jelly shakes his head. “You don’t have to do this.”
“You don’t even know what this is,” Teresa spits.
“Tara’s in there now. You’re next,” Jelly says. “You want to be?”
“It’s not so bad,” Teresa says. “I’m sure it’s not so bad.”
Jelly leans into her face. “It’s worse. Trust me.”
Teresa ducks under his chin and shimmies around him. She sees me, maybe for the first time. She’s shaking her head. “Babies,” she says. “Baby boys don’t know shit.” She’s between me and Jelly and maybe we can both grab her and drag her downstairs, tip-toe out of the house and sneak away like so many quiet mice, but then one of the Uglies is behind me and before I know it I’m on my back and I see Teresa walk into the bedroom. She walks slowly, I think, deliberately, maybe like on a catwalk and maybe she looks down at me and smiles a little, or maybe she’s just keeping her chin down to avoid Cody’s look ‘cause he’s in the doorway, his pants back up but a shit-eating grin on his face and he looks at me. And then Jelly’s on him, his fists swinging. Teresa vanishes into the bedroom and it’s like I imagined. The Uglies are on Jelly but he’s not backing down and I’m scampering down the staircase and I cut around the banister and I’m through the kitchen. Cameron and Luther hear me coming and they look up from the lawn. I can see the bong between them and the pool is empty. I bend over, catching my breath, and Jelly is tossed out behind me. He lands on the lawn with groan.
“Don’t come back in unless you want a real smack down,” says Cody. “And don’t worry about the girls. We’ll bring them to you when we’re done. Maybe you guys will get a pity fuck, if you’re lucky.” Then something comes flying at us and it’s the guitar grown wings. It flips like a gutshot duck and lands at Jelly’s side. Then the empty schnapps bottle comes flying and shatters in the pool.
Luther says, “Great.”
Cameron says, “Wonderful.”
I look at Jelly. His nose is running and his shirt is torn. He gets to his knees and spits, maybe it’s a little puke. He smiles at me, blood on his teeth, and wipes his mouth with the back of his arm. “You can’t save everybody,” he says and crawls to the guitar. He kneels and picks it up, resting it on his thighs, running his hand up the unbroken neck. He stands, unsteady, and walks to the pool. He’s swaying like Luther, like Tara before, a skinny tree in a strong wind, and he bends to Cameron’s board before he hops into the pool. He still has the guitar in his hand.
Even punch-drunk, Jelly can ride. He starts slow and picks up speed, back and forth, higher on the sides with each pass. Jelly really can ride, even holding that stupid thing. He makes the rest of us look like pikers. He passes the diving board and touches its tip, shakes it, and the baby Jesus does a little dance.
Jelly swings up and tries to catch the board again, but he’s off, the guitar pulling him backwards and he hits the side of the pool and flails. The guitar slams the lip of the board and the crunch isn’t good. Jelly grunts and maybe he tries to catch it, but he misses and his body isn’t ready for the fall. The guitar hits the bottom of the pool and its neck shoots at an angle, the strings the only thing holding it together. Jelly slams the concrete and screams. He’s rolling on the bottom of the pool holding his head and I can see the blood start to flow out from behind his hands. It’s coming pretty fast. It doesn’t look good for him or the guitar.
The thump of the bass from the second floor gets louder and I wonder what they’re doing to Teresa now. Maybe she’s kneeling, maybe she’s on her back on the dark carpet. Maybe I should call the cops. Maybe I should call 911. Jelly’s still moaning and Luther and Cameron aren’t doing shit. They’re so stoned they’re not in California anymore. My cell’s in my pocket, I know it’s there, though it hasn’t vibrated all night. No one’s looking for me and I can’t really figure out what I’m looking at: Jelly writhing, the blood spreading out beneath him, Teresa smiling, or pretending to, the glistening chunks of glass like fallen stars on the bottom of the pool, baby Jesus and his fat plastic cheeks and his tiny pursed mouth. The lights are flashing upstairs, somebody pretending it’s a dance floor, a do-it-yourself strobe. Do it yourself, I think. Yeah, or do it to somebody else.
Then the lights go out upstairs, though I can still hear the music and maybe laughter. Cody’s camping lights are dimming, their batteries wearing down. We’re out here in the dark, in the land of abandoned pools, and some of us are bleeding, you know it? But we’ll all be damned if any one of us is going to get off our asses, I mean stand up, and lend a hand.
A native of Madison, Wisconsin, John A. McDermott directs the BFA program in creative writing at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. He has a Ph.D. in creative writing from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and his stories have appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Cream City Review, Cimarron Review, Florida Review, Juked, Meridian, and Southeast Review.