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Authors: Flynn Meaney

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BOOK: Bloodthirsty
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“Did Celine like dinner? You smell like something delicious; it must have been good.”

I smell like humiliation
, I thought. As I took off my shoes, my mother followed me. I was accustomed to this. But, for once, she didn’t whip out her brush and pan to sweep up the invisible but deadly molecules of dirt.

“Dinner?” I said. “Well, she ordered a lot of food.”

My mother clapped her hands together rapturously. “That meant she liked it! And what about the book?”

“Uh…” I tried to avoid this question and escape her entirely by going up the stairs, whose banisters were now cloaked in toilet-seat covers. Look what happens when I leave this woman home alone on a Friday night.

My mother followed me shamelessly, up the stairs and into the first room, which Luke and I shared. We’d had separate rooms since the days we rocked out to Raffi songs, but here in Pelham, we shared a room. Luke was rarely here, between his football practices and all the friends he’d made in five freakin’ days. But he left a stench of sweat and overenthusiasm to keep me company, as well as enough cleat-dirt to AstroTurf our bedroom.

Since we were sharing a room, it was a lot harder to avoid Luke than it was in the days when I could refuse his invitation to a Swedish dented-beer-can orgy (or whatever weird event he’d concocted). Nowadays when my mother found a warm bottle of Killian’s Irish Red beer inside a loafer in our closet, I was there for her interrogation (“Finbar, is this yours?” “I don’t drink beer.” “Luke, is this yours?” “I think it came with the shoes. They’re, like, Irish leather.”); I was there when she placed the empty bottle on our dresser and filled it with fresh flowers and a little note she’d written about the dangers of alcohol poisoning. I was there when Luke frowned at the bottle and said, “Hey, I think I recognize that vase. Is that from Grandpa’s house?” And when he spit his gum into the note about alcohol poisoning. But where was Luke when
I
needed him?

“Did she like the book?” my mother prodded.

I thought for a second. “It certainly caused a scene,” I told her truthfully.

“Great!” My mother curled up on my bedspread and didn’t even pick off the lint balls. She was in her element. She loved hearing about love.

“When are you going to see her again?” she asked eagerly.

“I’m not really sure.”

“You didn’t make another date?”

“Nah.” I tried to sound casual. “I think we’re better as friends.”

When I turned around, my mother was giving me puppy dog eyes.

“Oh, Finbar,” she said. “I’m so sorry….”

I was glad when my father interrupted. Popping his receding hairline in the door, he said, “Hey, Finn! You gotta come downstairs and check out the new TV. This high-def is really something. You can see the sweat on the—”

“Paul!” My mother was offended.

“What?”

My father looked a little scared. We were all scared of my mother.

“You didn’t ask Finbar about his date!”

“Oh. Sorry,” my father said. “Finn, how was your date?”

“Paul! Don’t ask him about his date!” my mother interrupted. Then she scurried over to my father and lowered her voice, but not enough. “It didn’t go well.”

“Finbar,” my father preached suddenly, putting his hands on his hips and taking up the whole doorway. “You will never understand women.”

“Don’t tell him that!” My mother swatted his shoulder. “You understand me.”

“No I don’t,” my father said. “I just pissed you off!”

“Language, Paul.”

“But anyway, I didn’t mean
Finbar
won’t understand women,” my father explained. “I said ‘you.’ I meant a general ‘you.’ A collective ‘you.’ ‘You,’ as in, all the male—”

“Enough, Paul,” my mother snapped.

“Well, Finn, come downstairs if—”

“Not with the TV again!” My mother spoke for me. “He doesn’t want that kind of radiation—”

And my mother followed my father out of the room. Well, despite her best efforts, she’d actually made me feel a little bit better about losing Celine. Maybe I didn’t need another crazy girl in my life.

My mother had a long-term plan to comfort me and rebuild my self-esteem. She hid notes in my laundry and in my pillowcase that complimented me. For example, the first note I found pinned to my boxers told me: “Any girl would be lucky to have you.” Other notes reassured me about my physique and, disturbingly, my sex appeal. Whoever taught my mother the phrase
stud muffin
should be prosecuted.

My mother’s short-term plan was that on Saturday we would all get together for a family beach day. We would bask in the sun, swim, restore my sense of masculinity, and eat turkey sandwiches out of a cooler. The plan rapidly deflated. Luke bailed because he had a preseason Fordham football game that afternoon. He would be spending the morning at practice, leaving just Maud, Paul, and me.

My bedroom door swung open at 9 AM. Lifting myself on my sore right shoulder, I squinted across the room. Luke had already left. My mother appeared over me like a prison guard with orange juice.

“Wake up!” she said. “Beach day!”

When I finished the juice, my mother threw me in the car along with the collapsible umbrella, cooler of caffeine-free Diet Coke, and jug of SPF 89. On the way, my parents started arguing about my dad’s new toy—the GPS in the car. When I hear them argue about mundane things like telephone poles and the validity of the expiration date on a package of raisins (“They were always wrinkled, Maud!” “Not this wrinkled, Paul. They’re geriatric!”), I forget that they once fell in love. But they did. In fact, my mother claims it was love at first sight.

Picture it: Chesnut Hill, Massachussetts, 1978. My mother was a nerdy college freshman squinting through inch-thick lenses at the Boston College hockey game. She was giggling and pointing at the cute players with her two roommates. It was hard to determine attractiveness, my mother told me, considering the guys were in full masks, pads, jerseys, and gloves—and the girls had nosebleed seats. But somehow she fell in love with my father, a freshman scholarship left wing on the hockey team. Actually, she fell in love with the FRAME in white stick-on letters on the back of his jersey.

“I couldn’t see his face,” my mother would remember dreamily. “But I loved him. Right then. Through his mask and gloves and everything. Actually…”

(At this point she always looked around to see if my father was there.)

“Actually, to be honest, I thought he had about twenty pounds more muscle on him. The chest pads, you know.”

So my mother was in love with my father after that first freshman year hockey game. My father didn’t know my mother existed. In order to throw herself in his path, my mother became a sports reporter on the school newspaper. She thought they would develop a reporter-subject repartee that could build into love. My mother has kept copies of those college newspapers to this day; she interviewed my father for seven different articles freshman year. My father introduced himself anew each time because he never remembered they had met before.

Sophomore year my mother stepped up her efforts. She became a hockey team manager. At ninety-eight pounds, she lugged enormous duffel bags of skates and pads from Boston to Michigan, from Quebec to Toronto. She traveled with my father. She cleaned out his locker. She sat in a special front-row seat, right on the rink, to watch every game. There was an intimate Bengay incident, the circumstances of which I’ve never been entirely clear about. My father was polite, always thanked my mother for the towels and Gatorade bottles she handed him—but never called her by name.

In my mother’s sophomore yearbook, one of her friends wrote: “Mission for next year: MEET TALL PAUL.” “Tall Paul” was written in letters all skinny and tall like my dad. This bit of pre-parental lust disturbs me, but it also explains my tendency to fall and stay in love from a stalkerish distance.

But my mother almost gave up her stalking—er, love. Junior year, she switched from the sports beat to the college newspaper’s features section. She resigned as hockey team manager. She didn’t even go to hockey games anymore. That is, until the Eagles made the playoffs. Then my mother went to one game, the first playoff game. She sat in the third row, just to the left of the glass divider. My father hit a slap shot into her face.

There was a frantic time-out. Everyone sitting around my mother stood up and swarmed her. My father clawed his way over the wall and through the stands, and through the people, with his giant clumsy hockey gloves. He stomped up the rubber steps in his skates, all the while shedding ice in the aisles.

“Everyone stepped aside, and I saw her there, crying, blood pouring out of her nose,” my father says. This is how he tells the story. “And I loved her right then. I loved her. And I’d never seen the girl before in my life!”

* * *

The beach at Glen Island was a ten-minute drive from our house, and on the Long Island Sound, an inlet of the Atlantic Ocean. There weren’t big waves or anything, but it was nice, with buoys and boats and the whole deal. After hauling my dad’s ergonomic beach chair across fifty yards of sand, I was starting to sweat and really looking forward to going for a swim. I also wanted to get in the water and out of it before people my age arrived. My skin got pretty transparent when I was wet. I’d rather wear a white t-shirt than go shirtless, although I looked similar either way.

“Finbar, make sure you use the sunblock,” my mom said.

“Dad has it.”

My dad’s just as pale as I am, but due to advancing age he’s a few steps closer to carcinoma-ville. So I let him attack the SPF 89 first. I took his ergonomic lounge chair (wow, that was comfortable. Not really worth the haul across the sand, but…) and gazed out at the Long Island Sound, thinking all these deep thoughts about water and rebirth and losing my virginity. Or, rather, not losing my virginity. Not being within fifteen miles of losing my virginity. Not being in the same planetary revolution as… okay, you get it.

Suddenly a vision came to me. Me, all wet, a skintight suit. Sounds creepy, I know. But I was picturing myself surfing. Surfer! I could be a surfer! I liked the beach. And I didn’t mind exercise. It was just team sports I hated. They’re so aggressive, and I’m not an aggressive person. Not even at the dinner table. I always get the last chicken breast.

Two girls my age appeared on the beach and quickly confirmed my love of the surfing lifestyle. They were free of ergonomic lawn chairs; they were skipping along barefoot with towels. They were wearing bikinis that were as small as their sunglasses were large. That is, mind-blowingly small. It was unbelievable to me. That they could walk around like that. Their cupped butt cheeks exposed. Their tan thighs. Their round breasts. Yes, I definitely like surfing—or at least the uniforms. I could scout girls like this all day. I could be a beach bum. I could be a lady-killer. I could be…

“Red as a stoplight, Finbar!” my father observed over his blue oxide-covered nose. My mother came over. She was wearing a hat the size of the Rose Bowl. As you can tell, my parents are not embarrassing at all.

“Oh, no!” she gasped. She covered her eyes with both hands. “Oh, Finbar, I can’t even look at you!”

Panicking, I looked down at my shoulder. I’d gotten a six-inch bruise in a rainbow of nasty colors from the green-pepper incident. But I was still wearing my shirt, so it wasn’t the bruise that was freaking out my mom.

“How did he get sunburned that fast?” my father asked. “We’ve only been here twenty minutes.”

“I don’t want to look!” my mother shrieked. Then she peeked out from between her fingers and gasped again.

“Don’t look at his face if it gets you upset,” my dad said.

What was I, the Phantom of the Opera?

“What is it?” I asked. “My face is kinda itchy.”

“And your arms,” my dad said.

“They don’t itch,” I said.

“They will,” he said ominously.

I looked down. Red spheres were erupting along my forearms, like planets with rings. I looked like a pepperoni pizza, only less delicious. In fact, not delicious at all. I was disgusting. There were some large red patches, an inch in diameter, and some that were clusters of bumps. And my father was right. They began to itch.

“Maybe something bit him,” my mother said. “Maybe he got bitten by a New York bug!”

“A what?” My father was puzzled.

“He should definitely go to the doctor,” my mom said, purposefully focusing her eyes on my father and looking away from my freakish self. “All right, Paul, you get the stuff. And I’ll take Fin—”

She steeled herself to see me and then removed her hands from her eyes.

“AHHHH!” she screamed. My eardrums hurt. And my arms hurt too. And my face. And my legs, below the knee. I was breaking out everywhere, red and stinging and itchy.

“Mom, if you want me to go to the doctor, I’ll go by myself,” I said. “I’m not twelve years old.”

“You can take the car, Finn,” my dad said.

“He can’t drive like that!” my mother said.

That didn’t even make sense.

“I’ll take the train,” I said.

“Do you even know where the doctor’s office is?” my mother asked.

“As a matter of fact, I do!” I exploded at her. “It’s the place where you dragged me the other day to get eight vaccinations and a SARS mask!”

I tried to stomp off, but it’s really hard to do that in flip-flops.

The doctor’s verdict was: “You’re allergic to the sun.”

What? How was that possible? The sun is a natural thing. It’s
good
for you. That’s like being allergic to water, or air. Or something really important, like Pop-Tarts. I spent twenty minutes at the beach thus far this summer and I’m a monster? “Solar urticaria,” the doctor continued. “That’s what it’s called. The sun made you break out in hives.”

Well, I definitely wasn’t going to be a surfer anymore. And I guess I wasn’t going to school anymore either. Or church. Ooh, this would get me out of church! That was a good thing. But being locked up in my room like the Hunchback of Notre Dame? Not so good.

“Has the sun ever done this to you before?” he asked.

Of course it hadn’t. I’m not exactly outdoorsy, but I’d been surviving summer afternoons outdoors since childhood. For every two hours I spent ogling the children’s librarian, I would serve an hour at the Alexandria community pool working on my farmer’s tan.

BOOK: Bloodthirsty
7.32Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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