Sometimes I like to imagine what people from high school are up to. Every so often, I go back to Dick. He was a quiet guy, kept to himself. I think I heard someone say he’s living in Marcellus, NY now. I imagine he’s a bigger guy now. When we left school he had a beard coming in. I think when he thinks of me it probably goes something like this:
Dick’s been stacking the aisles all day. His arms are tired. His underwear has been turning underneath his pants all day, making everything chafed. He’s uncomfortable. His glasses keep falling down. Still, this day is like all other days to Dick, nothing incredible will happen, but a few entertaining customers will come in, maybe a nice looking woman. He’ll talk, flirt, and laugh. He will try to do as little work as possible.
He does a crossword puzzle, and the bell on the door rings. He doesn’t look up.
“Heya dick,” Barry says. “How the heck is this weather so crummy?”
“Oh, hi, Barry,” Dick says. “I think it’ll get better. Life always does, even if you don’t really ask it to.” The bell over the door rings. Dick looks back down.
“Well, I don’t wanna keep you. I’ll just take one of these,” Barry says, motioning to the town newspaper. He pays and let’s Dick keep the change. I suppose Barry is a very nice man. Let’s say he comes to the store frequently. He’s one of those old men who smells funny; one who doesn’t have much to do, so he uses trips to various stores to get his necessary interaction for the day.
The bell on the door rings. A man at the door asks in a high pitch, “Excuse me? Excuse me? Did you see my boyfriend come in a moment ago?” His pants are skinny and white, his hat is brimmed and feathered, his bone-structure magnificent. He looks like the type of person that people see without seeing. They don’t see exactly how odd his mannerisms can be, or how odd his fashion sense is, but they call it “unique” instead.
Dick shakes his head, slowly, looks back down, snorts and relaxes his eyes.
“Excuse me, sir. Excuse me! I’m sorry, but I know he just came in. He must be in the restroom. UGH! Thanks for the help,” he says sarcastically.
Just then it occurs to Dick that he knows that fella. He sees that fella all the time in fact. Usually he just speaks to faces—faces that remember him, but that come up utterly blank in Dick’s own recollection. It must have been the bone-structure. “Wait! Wait a second. I know you. Ahhhh, yeah, aren’t you the fella that came around last weekend, flashing a fake ID? That was a good one!”
“Yeah, ha, that was me,” the man says, dropping his high pitch. “Glad you woke up! Ya know, I really am 21. We just like to joke around sometime, show our old fakes. I can show you it now if you’d like,” the man says.
“Go and find your friend for crissakes. We can chat about nothing and all its lies later. Later. Later. Later,” Dick says with his voice trailing off.
A yelp from the back of the store precedes the two customers. When they get to the front, they stand with their asses on the counters, as if they’ve pal’d around the place a lot; as if they are as comfortable as anyone could get. The audacity annoys Dick. He lets it go. He likes them, because the other day when they came in, drunkenly knocking down snacks around the counter, they were kind enough to pick everything up, and confident enough to ask for beer, even though they were driving and already wasted. He knew they were 21, and he knew they liked to play peculiar jokes on people. He had once seen them hiding behind the pumps, but he lost interest before he saw what they did to the cars pumping gas. Dick lets them get their asses comfortable on the ledge of the counter.
Dick decides to open the conversation. “So. You two gay today?”
“I don’t know George. What do you say? We gay now?” A tall man in cargo shorts and a blue polo shirt says to his white panted companion.
“Yes, no? That’s so boring. Why don’t you tell Henry and me a story, then we can tell you a story!” George says.
“What the hell do you think this is?” Dick asks.
“You don’t get any business here anyway, we’re in Marcellus!” Henry says.
“You two seem a little queerer than before. What the hell’s gotten into ya?” Dick says.
“You, Dick, you’ve gotten into us,” George says.
“Alright! Alright, you fucking weirdoes,” Dick says with an approving smile. “What kind of story?”
“How about this: what’s the worst thing you’ve ever done? I hear that’s a pretty common pickup line,” George says.
“I’ll tell ya what, fine,” Dick says, smiling slightly again. “I went to high school about an hour away from here. I’ve only seen one tranny ever around here.” He gave them both long looks to grab their attention. Henry grabs a brownie and begins to eat it. Dick continues, “Well, I remember there was a tranny in my graduation year. At first you couldn’t really tell it was a tranny. He just seemed like a weirdo, putting makeup on with guy clothes, that sort of thing.”
“Did anyone ever say anything? Where’s this going, Dick? You gonna tell us about how you got a BJ from him in the bathroom?”
“Yeah, fucker. I got a BJ and now I’m here to confess it to you little shitheads. Here’s my soul, splatter it with some redemption. Will ya? Oh, please? I mean I can’t understand how you can ask someone to tell a story—”
“Okay, Dick. Henry is being mean, just keep going,” George says.
“Well, okay, the tranny’s name was Jesse. She only hung out with Asians, even though everyone around here is a little racist against Asians, and I think she was too, actually. He, or she? He, before she was a she, would walk around ignoring everyone. I would’ve spoken to him. Everyone knows I’ve never been a bigot! I had a couple classes with Jesse. In history she would raise her hand and talk about how slavery wasn’t so bad. She would say stuff like, ‘The north and south needed to be separate,’ in this voice that just oozed artificial. It just couldn’t have been how his voice always sounded, but it was hard to tell after a while if it had always been, or was just an invention. In eleventh grade Jesse started looking more and more like she wanted to. She even got some boobies. She threw away her guy clothes. People said her dad beat her, but I don’t think many people cared. She seemed like trash, and that kinda thing just happens to white trash.
“When she sprouted those tits, and wore those skirts, people started getting confused. They’d look once, twice, three times. They’d look and look and look and then finally would come to some conclusion. It was a big school so not everyone knew everyone, but everyone knew there was one of her types in the school. When people figured out which you could hear them say, ‘Found her!’ Truthfully it was confusing as hell. Lots of people would accidentally look at her butt wiggle down the hall, forgetting she was a he whenever she stopped looking the same. What’s in your pants buds? Dicks, right? Well, if she could look so different I could see anyone with a dick pretending not to have one, anyone without one pretending to have one. And the desire is so confusing, boys.” Dick trails off for a moment. George and Henry exchange glances. He looks at the bottle of water he has sitting next to the register, takes a sip, and looks outside. His eyes water, Henry yells, “Wait, you can’t stop there!” and Dick continues talking.
“At the end of eleventh grade, I had some foreign exchange students in town from France; they were pretentious lil’ assholes. They fucked constantly. I think the oldest might have been 15. My guy was pretty quiet, really fashionable. Weird face though. One day we were in the library, and he just stared at Jesse for about twenty minutes. His eyes ate her up. Desire. She flipped through pages. She got up and went to the bathroom, passing pretty close to our table, so he got a good look at her. His eyes bulged real big, he clutched his stomach, went running out into the hall. He puked on the floor, and screamed, “It’s a fucking guy!” so that everyone started chuckling, and then pouring laughter everywhere, and everyone knew why he threw up, and felt sorry for him—being confused and everything. He complained about America for the rest of the day, and I nearly choked him, but he probably doesn’t know that. At night, I would go home and think about Jesse, think about trying to make myself puke, like the Frenchman. I wasn’t sure what I was trying to get out of me, but I never puked.
“Truthfully, I felt bad for the Frenchman. I don’t know exactly when, or even what started it, but I started following him. I would watch him walk home; I would run past his route home during cross-country practice. I could smell him sometimes. When I was younger, I wished I smelled like a girl. Jesse smelled a lot like my sister.
“I’m not sure if he noticed me. For a while I would walk behind him thinking he was brave for what he was, repulsive, nearly inhuman, an expressionless desire. Then I realized that he was no different from me. He didn’t know me. I wasn’t really someone people noticed at school, either. I watched drivers stick out of their car windows to cat-call, I saw him give them the finger, call ‘em ‘dirty faggots,’ sometimes even pick up a rock and chuck it at them. Desire.
“I had this really nice bat I’d take out sometimes. One day, I skipped school, spent it with my bat, came to school at the very end, followed Jesse with my bat. Fuck, I even called my bat “Jesse” a couple of times during the chase.” Dick laughs.
Henry and George are engrossed, their bodies are tense. Dick keeps laughing. Dick has that power over them in that moment, and he laughs because he knows it. He knows they are assessing, thinking, “the devil, or god,” but nothing in between. A few tears drip out of his lids. George grabs Dick’s shoulders and shouts, “Keep going!” Dick doesn’t want to keep going. A car speeds by outside and Dick imagines he’s in it, going as fast he can into the nearest tree. Dick has this tingling—the kind of tingling that acts like an oven light, but lets you know, “time to implode.” He continues.
“When I got to the block before his house I decided to speed up. A couple of times, I thought maybe I’d go home. I didn’t know what I was doing out there. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do next, but I found my bat in his head before the end of the block. I pulled him down into the trees beside the road. He was unconscious before he even felt the second blow. The bat fell over and over. My hands squeezed, but I wanted them to relax. Most of the hits went to the core, the muscles. I pulled his body back onto the walk. He wasn’t dead, I knew that. I went home. Desire.
“He didn’t go back to school for a while, so everyone thought he was getting surgery or something. I felt freer by then. I could laugh at those jokes now. I knew everyone was bones and flesh.
“I started going out with this really cute girl named Sharron. She told me she loved me after a while. I told her I loved women. When I touched her head, I could almost feel the tranny’s bloody head. When we fucked, I thought about the pounding of the bat, but I was gentle. I’m a gentle guy, anybody will you that. I think imagining her that way might have been the worst thing I’ve ever done. Or maybe it was all of it put together. Or, I can’t tell, but maybe it’s that I don’t feel terrible about it all, I just feel numb, confused, desirous.”
“Dick,” George says. “You can’t be serious.”
“What do you mean,” Dick replies.
“You’re a fucking psycho! That’s what he means,” Henry interjects.
Henry is silent for a long time, and laughs, boisterous, like the devil himself. He laughs for close to a minute, and Henry and George are worried, then baffled as his face turns merry as ever.
“It’s a story about a guy, you faggots, not me. I would never, assholes. You know me. You know me. You know me! Faggots! Queers! Get the fuck out of here,” Dick says.
“Now what the hell do you think you’re doing, Dick,” George says.
“What? You guys can come in here and pretend to be gay, and I can’t make a prank of my own?” Dick laughs again.
“Oh, fuck you, Dick,” Henry says.
“Whoa, no thanks, guys,” Dick laughs with his eyes squinting, unable to open.
“Let’s get out of here,” Henry says. They walk toward the door, looking over their shoulder at Dick laughing, clutching his hair. Henry notices the tears coming out of his eyes and rushes to the door, taking off his feathered hat.
As they leave, Dick feels his inability to implode, his confession turning into a joke. His words becoming the wind; his humanity sees its own corpse and thinks it’s a replica. The bell on the door becomes silent, and the room does. He feels the veil covering his face, the marriage to silence and confusion. He grabs a paper to read, stops sobbing, and feels the soft cotton paper. He reads.
Maybe he doesn’t think any of that. Maybe he knows I knew he followed me. Sometimes I like to think of people I went to high school with, because I know I need to. I just don’t know why yet. When I think of him, I follow the lines on my scalp, I quail my own tears, because I know no one will do it for me—there’s only silence.