Thom

“Why you done it?” she asks quietly. I’m laying there with my head in her lap all chill, on her bed in the good room, watching the orange-juice-and-honey-colored sunset through the window. Her nails are thin and long and make a noise like paper when she drags them through my hair, then starts braiding it like she’s not really thinking about it, just messing around.

I know what she’s talking about, but I fake like I don’t. “What?”

“Whatever you done to get here.”

“Oh. I dunno.”

She’s quiet, like she’s waiting for me to explain some more, but I don’t.

In a way, “I dunno” is the truth.

School was over. Hector, that all-star fuck-up, got an art scholarship to a UC. My grades were shit and anyways I didn’t even apply and anyways I didn’t know how or what for or whatever. So seriously, what the fuck was I going to do?

When Hector moved to Irvine to start school, I got a job at this concrete place down in the desert where I hosed out the concrete trucks with this chemical that burned a line across my calves where the rubber boots I wore came up to.

My gramps was gone. My mom’d been gone for six months and I was living with my stepdad and half-brother Stevie and I’d been thinking a lot about death lately. Like the last week of school when we were supposed to be taking tests, I’d be sitting there thinking, Is my mom’s body a skeleton now? How about my Gramps’s? Can bugs and worms get inside a coffin? Are they in heaven or hell or something, or is death just like going to sleep only there’s nothing afterwards and you don’t ever wake up? Or is there some kind of fucked-up underworld with a river in it like the teacher is talking about right now, and they’re riding down it in a boat to get there?

Then I started thinking about, What about me? What if I die? What’s that going to be like? I’d go in the garage and see my Gramps’s guns in the unlocked green safe where he’d always kept them with a stick stuck in the door so it wouldn’t close, and I’d go, This one could do it. I’d pick it up and feel the weight of it, and wonder if my arms were long enough.

I didn’t have a reason to live. But sitting here with her, I kind of think maybe I didn’t have a reason to die, either. Compared to her, my shit wasn’t all that fucked. Even compared to Elyse. Maybe I could’ve moved to Mississippi and worked on the farm. Something. I guess I didn’t think it through so great.

My arms were long enough.