Fiction Honorable Mention 3





            I don’t know what it is about the music. The energy, the attitude, the feeling that someone else is angry and upset about life. That I’m not the only person who is disillusioned and more than a little confused. Ever since I really discovered it — not just listened to it as background — it’s all I listen to it.
            Katie’s into punk rock. The day I found out, I felt like someone else was in on my little secret. I remember thinking that this must be what it’s like for those jocks in gym class, who come back at the first of every school year amazed at how Becca Armstrong had grown breasts or how hot Amanda Rogers was now that she was bleaching her hair. Katie told me the first record she ever bought was the original Minor Threat, with Ian sitting on the steps with his head down and bald head staring straight at you. She started on a high note.
            The first time I ever listened to punk I was eight years old. I was with my cousin, Mike. I think he just made me listen to it because he wasn’t supposed to. Won’t even remember who it was; I was still too young to hear anything but a bunch of noise. I never really started liking punk until about a year ago. I heard a Minutemen tape, Double Nickels on the Dime, and was blown away. They have a song on it called “Martin’s Story,” which I always misheard as “Marcus’ Story.” It also happens to be my name. I know the actual title now, but I still like to listen to it my way. The music goes by so fast that it isn’t all that hard to pretend.
            After hearing the Minutemen, it was over. I was buying everything — old stuff, new releases, magazine articles, basically sorting out what was and wasn’t my style. I absorbed it all. I had never really felt like I belonged to anything before. My mom likes to say that it’s because I have a good sense of myself, that I won’t transform like some chameleon. But that’s bullshit. It’s more like I’m poor, shy, and overweight. I’m not fat by any means — a little less than husky — but it’s the combination that kills me.
            Katie is about as popular as I am. It’s not that people hate us (I’m sure if one of us died in a car accident we’d warrant an announcement on the intercom and a moment of silence), it’s more like they just don’t care. Which sometimes is good for anonymity. For example, Katie showed up on the first day of high school and only got a few snide remarks. Most of them clever ones along the lines of, “Uh-oh, the weird girl just got weirder.”
            I doubt I would have ever really met Katie if it wasn’t for her hair. Once I saw it, I decided I had to. It was beautiful. Her hair wasn’t that food coloring dull green that most people you see have, it was loud. She always had it down or in pigtails. I liked pigtails because they showed off her cheekbones and the little birthmark next to her left temple. She ended up being in three of my classes — Bio, Spanish, and Creative Foods. We started talking shortly thereafter.


            The day the new Jawbox record came out, Katie and I had big plans. We rode the bus home from school, like we always did, and stopped by the record store to pick it up. This was slowly becoming routine. So were we. Katie and I have a lot in common: we both hate school, neither of us watch or play sports, we love horror movies, and like comic books, and both of us have May birthdays (although she’s a Taurus and I’m a Gemini). Every day around her is strange, exciting, and scary. Especially today.
            I gave up my half of the money and Katie went up to the counter for the record, while I waded through the used bins.
            She tapped me on the back. “Got it.”
            We started out. I hesitated for a second and grabbed her hand, missing at first and banging mine into her side before finally grasping it. She moved in and walked closer to me. I still felt really new to this whole thing and there were a lot of blank moments where I just didn’t know what to do. Every time I left her house, I didn’t know if I was supposed to kiss her goodbye or go ahead and walk out the door. The goodbye kiss seems a little overdramatic to me, like I’m leaving for France and not coming back. On the other hand, what if she’s expecting it? It isn’t like we hadn’t kissed before, so then it looks like I’m upset. In reality, I just don’t what the fuck I’m doing.
            And don’t get me started on the butterflies. The nervousness that rises up from your stomach into the center of your chest, slowly. It always reminded me of presentation day at school, only worse because I actually cared what Katie thought and I had to look cool.
            I started to feel the nerves kick in and the blood leave my face as we started toward Katie’s house. I tried to play it off.
            “This is gonna be great. The record.”
            “Yeah, I know. I’ve been thinking about it all day.” She squeezed my hand when she said this. “I sat through English daydreaming and staring at the carpet.”
            “I always look at it until the threads move.”
            “The carpet. I lock my eyes on it until the different colored threads start to move around.”
            “Sounds fun. I just daydream.” Katie scratched her head. “Shit, I meant to look for movies. My brother’s coming home this weekend.”
            “We can walk up later if you want.”
            “No, it’s okay. We can stop by tomorrow. Thanks, though.” Katie rubbed the inside of my elbow with her left hand. She always seemed so in control of everything.
            “Are you and your brother close?”
            “Kind of. I don’t know, he’s nine years older than me and I don’t see him much. He stayed with dad a lot growing up. You know those commercials they have for the stay at home art schools?”
            “With the old guy?” I tried to impersonate his voice. “You can make a living from home, doing what you want to do when you want to do it.”
            “Yeah, those. After he dropped out of high school he sent off for that. All he got out of it was a little certificate and a bunch of shitty second rate art books. Not even second rate, you can probably find them anywhere. They’re the Hallmark cards of art — all puppy dogs and little boys on bikes. I think he’s pretty unhappy. He usually just gets commissioned for little motels and cheap sit down restaurants. The stuff he doesn’t sell ends up on our living room wall.”
            When we reached Katie’s place, she waved to a man working at the flower shop under her. Katie unlocked the black metal gate and we walked to the side entrance. We went inside and started up the stairs. She led. I stared at her body as I followed. Her skin is really pale — almost white — which suits her very well, although she says she’s self conscious about it. We look kind of odd together, but maybe that’s how it should be. She’s only 5’1 (a full foot shorter than me) and super skinny.
            “Did you see that guy?” Katie said in a whisper.
            “Yeah, the flower shop guy.”
            “When we first moved here, he’d always do this thing where he’d take his teeth out and show them to me. I used to think it was the coolest thing. I think he’s kind of senile, though.”
            “Fake teeth creep me out. One of my dad’s friends has dentures and he’d always take his teeth out because he knew it scared me. He used to own a bakery, too.”
            “That’s good advertising.”
            The outside of Katie’s apartment definitely showed its age. The walls were painted white, with streaks of brown bursting out chaotically from where the paint was peeling. If Katie hadn’t told me, I wouldn’t have been able to tell which color it was supposed to be.
            The entrance to her place leads directly to the kitchen. It was dark, sunlight was pouring in from the adjacent living room. She walked to the refrigerator. It was mustard yellow, with reminder notes and a calendar with different dogs for every month decorating it. The calendar was three months late in being flipped.
            “You want a drink?”
            “What do you have?”
            “Some Tang, a little pop, and my mom has a couple of beers. You can have one, though.”
            I looked over her shoulder. “I’ll take the Big Red,” I said as I grabbed it. She took a beer, then put it back. She took my hand and led me through the living room. I studied the paintings of landscapes and wildlife lining the walls for the first time. She was right; they looked rushed and kind of meaningless. Katie’s stepdad was passed out in a Lazy Boy, gripping a can of Steel Reserve with his right hand. He didn’t have a shirt on and a thick forest of red hairs sprang out of every conceivable spot on his stomach and chest — I imagined his back as well, but I’d never seen it. His feet were propped up on a little wooden table, surrounded by beer cans, rolling papers, and empty cellophane. Katie shook him a bit to see how passed out he was. His head rolled back and then moved into its original resting place. She grabbed his wallet and stole twenty bucks from it, looked up and smiled at me as she did it. It looked like Larry wouldn’t be bothering us today. He never talked much even when he wasn’t passed out in the middle of the afternoon. He didn’t seem very approachable, but he always made me feel more comfortable. There was no way I could look bad in comparison and I knew he didn’t give enough of a shit about Katie to ever bother us. Katie grabbed my hand and led me to her room.
            “Yeah, Larry’s a real father figure,” she whispered as she opened the bedroom door.
            Katie wasn’t the type of girl who cared about looking good for company. It was one of the many things I dug about her. When she flipped on the lights, I looked at the melting pot of books, clothes, and movies scattered all about. She didn’t have anything enclosing the light bulb in her ceiling fan, so even the light was sloppily distributed. The only thing she had in order were her records, which she placed in a neat little stack to the left of her record player. I sat on the bed and leaned up against the headboard. The tension had spread to my shoulders.
            Katie pulled out our record from the white plastic bag and unwrapped it. We stared at the cover together: it was a shot of a baby from shoulders up with his mouth wide open in what I thought was a laugh and she thought was a scream. It was in two colors, olive green and army green, which made the image hard to discern unless you were right up on it. Our faces were both about six inches away.
            “Let’s put it on,” Katie said giddily and smiled. She moved from the bed to the record player, stepping over various pieces of clothing and literature. She bent down and her shirt rode up a bit so I could see the small of her back. She removed the plastic casing off the player, put the record on, and pressed in the play lever. As the needle moved onto the outside of the circle, she sprang back to the bed, as if she were afraid not to be in proper listening position when the music started.
            J. Robbins’ voice came on as the first song started and we listened to the music for a minute. Katie was sitting half-Indian style on the end of the bed, with one leg spilling over the side. I was sitting at the head, with my legs running horizontally, ending next to her left arm.
            “What’s your favorite song off the first record?” I hadn’t gotten to the point where I felt comfortable being silent around Katie yet, Jawbox or no Jawbox.
            “I love it all.” She made eye contact with me. “When I first got it, I listened to it constantly. Every day, I’d put it on in the shower and sing along.”
            “I do the same thing. I have a pre-school ritual: I’ll wake up, take a shower, and stand in there screaming along to some Germs or Anti-Flag. It’s my favorite time of the day.”
            “Yeah, I always stand in front of the mirror and take my toothbrush or hair dryer, and sing along doing rock star poses.” She started giggling. “Yep, I’m super cool,” she said dryly, as if it were an afterthought.
            “You are, are you?” I looked at her really seriously. We both burst out laughing. I really am a dork sometimes. “It’s too bad the rest of the day is downhill from there.”
            “Oh, it is, is it?” She raised her eyebrows and pinched my leg as she mocked me. “Do you care?” She motioned to the end of the bed. I moved over a bit to my left and she sat next to me. Her right arm rubbed against my left and she kept it there. It was warm and my hands couldn’t stop sweating. I was anxious but I didn’t want to move. I closed my eyes and took a breath. Then I moved my arm directly inside of hers and started running my half-closed hand up and down her forearm.
            She turned and kissed me and I opened my mouth and did it back. I still didn’t really know what I was doing. I tried to do the same thing she was, but I felt myself moving my tongue around a lot faster, even though I kept telling myself not to. This made her speed up. I was more nervous than usual.
            She pulled her head back and unbuttoned my shirt. I thought about how white my stomach was compared to the rest of my body and how it was hanging outstretched over my blue khakis. I caught her eyes and she cocked her head sideways, started to blink and overdo the innocent girl pose you see in movies. I could tell she was nervous, too.
            “Hold on a second.” I got up and flipped off her light. The only light that seeped in was through the sheets she had strewn over her windows to help her sleep.
            I pulled Katie’s comforter over us and hovered over her at an angle. She put her hands on me and I tried ignoring the butterflies. Her hands were cold and sweaty, too, which made me feel better. We started kissing again. Actually kissing this time. I relaxed a little and lost myself in the music as I moved my mouth around the curves in Katie’s teeth.


            “hey angel
            consider your position
            framed to be consumed”


            Katie took off her shirt and tossed it to the floor. I started kissing her neck and tried to look at her nipples, but it was too dark to make out anything but an outline. I ran my hands over her breasts while she lifted my head back up to meet her mouth.


            “a minute a second a half life
            a minus a segment a blinder
            elective detention, its succession time
            paid for by cutting backwards”


            At some point, our pants came off and her hand crawled into my boxer briefs. She didn’t really know what to do, which made me feel relieved because I didn’t either. As much as I knew I’d enjoy this looking back, I really just wanted it to be over with. I slid her underwear down a bit (noticing that it was the fake silky kind that feels like my pajamas that I told her I love) and she wriggled out of them halfway while guiding my hand between her legs.


            “money passed behind and now im robbed
            sold away my rights forever
            to something that was multi-splendored”


            I kept having to shift my weight to the right so it didn’t rest squarely on her. I was really sweaty at this point. I looked up at her and her lip quivered — just enough to see if you really looked.
            “Do you still want to?”
            I said “yes” right away, although I was really nervous about the whole thing. I kept telling myself that she was, too. We shifted. Then re-shifted. I got inside of her, which was a lot trickier than I thought it would be. I did what I thought I was supposed to, moved my hips up and down, somewhat in rhythm with the music. It was really more tense than pleasurable and I wondered if she felt the same way. It didn’t last long.
            The record ended and all we could hear was the crackling of static.


            We laid there and smoked cigarettes, using my mostly finished Big Red can as an ashtray. I don’t smoke, but it seemed like the thing to do. All of the pressure had melted away and I felt loose. I looked down at my pants. It made me feel special to see them discarded on Katie’s floor with the rest of the clutter.
            Katie leaned forward and kissed me on the forehead. She couldn’t stop smiling. Neither could I.
            “I can’t believe I’m not a virgin. Was that your first time?” I asked, knowing that it was but feeling like I had to talk about the whole thing to know that it really happened.
            Katie paused. “No, I slept with the entire football team one night. All in a row.” She looked into my eyes, playfully squeezed my nipple (which actually kind of hurt), and her voice got soft. “Of course it was my first time.”
            “It was different than I thought it would be.”
            “It didn’t hurt as bad as I thought it would. When I was twelve, my mom told me this story about her first time. I’ll spare you the gory details, but she didn’t make it sound pleasant. I think she just wanted to scare me.”
            I laughed a little bit. “Your mom thought you were gonna be a nympho.” She rolled her eyes and we sat there for a minute. “We should go see Jawbox.”
            Katie agreed. We laid there for a few minutes exchanging little bits of information — middle names, what we were going to do that weekend, why we both hated Mrs. Tolle. Finally, I got up and started to get dressed.
            “I’ve gotta go. My mom’s already gonna be super pissed.”
            “Oh, I see how it is.” Katie tried on a false dramatic tone, “You think you can just fuck and run.”
            I flipped my collar up on my shirt, Elvis-like. “That’s my style, baby, that’s my style.”
            I leaned over and kissed her. She put her hand on the back of my neck and her tongue tasted really good. I wanted to stay and repeat the entire day, especially now that the anxiety was gone.
            We got up and she walked me halfway to the door. “So can I come over again tomorrow?”
            “Of course you can, but my mom will probably be home around 5:30 tomorrow night. Just come over right after school.” She gave me a quick kiss (I didn’t even have to make the choice) and ran her hand down my back. She pulled away and winked at me. “Make sure to bring your Minutemen tape.” I playfully gave her the finger and walked out the door.