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Authors: Joel Thomas Hynes

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Keith lights another cigarette. The air is thick with the smell of burnin’ woods but it’s hard to say if it’s comin’ from the site of the fire or if it’s off Keith. His lip is bleedin’. He hands me
the cigarette, the butt soaked with his blood. It squishes and caves in when I takes a draw.

—Never meant to hit you, Keith. I was just pissed off.

He props himself up on his elbow, this grim, worried look on his face.

—You gotta come home with me, Andy. I’ll be shot. Everyone’s gonna think it was me.

3. Halfway to the Devil’s Kitchen

It was my mother I finally went to. Of course. She nodded in all the right places and when I was done bawlin’ she just stood there starin’ at me. For a brief second I fully expected, wanted, desperately needed her to wrap her arms around me and love me, lighten me and make it all go away. But she didn’t. She carried on foldin’ the sheets and said:

—Natasha, don’t dare tell that to your father ’cause you knows he’ll go off the head.

Silenced. All my hurt swept beneath the carpet ’cause pretty young things should concern themselves first and foremost with remaining pretty young things. Silenced because there was no room in her perfectly proportioned little world for scandal. Whatever would the neighbours think?

We never spoke of it again. But things changed between us. There was a new distance. Part of me welcomed it and another part tried to deny it. She didn’t seem to care so much about little things anymore. I wore what I liked and I went wherever I pleased. She hardly batted an eye. One night I stayed out ’til daylight and she didn’t even ask where I was. She didn’t give a flyin’ fuck about the bottomless black hole in my heart.

So I had no one to turn to. My insides were tied up in knots and I had no clue how to untie them. I wish I’d gone straight to Dad in the first place. He would have lost his mind and slaughtered Francey O’Dea on the spot. Who’s Francey O’Dea? He’s a sick, drug-dealin’ beast with no more brains than God gave the common dog. Some years older than me. He used to babysit me and…fuck…and he gets to go on eatin’ and sleepin’ and breathin’ and
’ in the same harbour as me.

The way I sees it, the suggestion, the possibility, of sex is a powerful weapon. Even more potent than the deed itself. Give a little taste and they’re like whipped dogs beggin’ for scraps at the table. Bobby O’Neill was my first. Not my first love. That was Keith. Bobby was more like a piece of play-dough, an experiment, to see whether or not I was
of actually goin’ through with it. Could I really lie there and let another person gain pleasure by touchin’ me? Could I find pleasure in it myself? Before Bobby I’d been afraid to even touch my own self. Would I lose my mind? Would I see Francey O’Dea’s sticky face before me and lash out?

No, none of that. Bobby was a sweetheart and he made it so easy for me. And after the first time it just got easier ’cause all he wanted was more and more and more of me. All I needed was to say
and that used to drive him mental. I’d say
and he’d show up with new CDs and books and clothes and once he even brought me a kitten but Dad flipped out and made him bring it back.

It was all silly games to me though, and I felt shitty about not feelin’ anything for him. But there was no spark, no energy, no adventure. It was too safe. I wanted something with a bit
more bite to it. I wanted someone to
me. Badly. I needed someone to know me and feel me and share me. The real me. I could never bring myself to open up to Bobby. So all he knew of me was what I let him see. Besides, if he’d had even a peek of the girl
saw when I looked in the mirror, I doubt very much he’d have stuck around as long as he did.

So after a while I started lookin’ around for something different. I didn’t have to look far.

One night myself and Bobby were curled up on the couch watchin’ a movie when we heard a racket outside the house. I pulled the curtain back. There was someone out standin’ up on the bumper of Dad’s pickup pissin’ all over the bonnet. He was all dressed in black and he had his hood up so I couldn’t make out who it was. Then he let out a big roarin’ laugh and Bobby said:

—Shit, that’s Keith.

Keith Kavanagh out pissin’ on Dad’s truck, laughin’ his head off. Loaded drunk. Coolest thing I ever saw. Just the extra bite I was looking for. I’d heard a hundred stories about Keith Kavanagh and the cops and out fightin’ with the Trepassey crowd, lighting fires and fallin’ out at home and gettin’ suspended from school every second day for sayin’ this and doin’ that. I even heard somewhere that he lost his virginity to some old hag down behind the fish plant. And he always had black eyes or cuts or a limp or something goin’ on. He had a girlfriend, a ditsy girl from Toronto who was just here over the summer or something. But all that was fine too.

—Bobby, Dad’s gonna murder ’im! Go out and see if he’s alright.

Bobby gave me a strange look then, a mix of fear and suspicion. He obviously didn’t want to go out there and confront
Keith Kavanagh, who was by then sittin’ up on the bonnet in the exact place he’d just pissed.

—What do you mean
see if he’s alright
? He’s drunk or stoned and being a dick. Go
your father on him is what I’d do.

—Well I’ll go out myself, will I?

Bobby wasn’t long jumpin’ up then. He hauled his boots on and went outside. I peeked through the curtains as he approached Keith. I slid the window open a crack so I could hear what went on between them.

—Hey, Keith. Keith?

—Jesus fuckin’ Christ, man. You frightened the shit out of me.

—You should get down off the truck before—

Keith slid down off the hood of the truck but couldn’t keep his balance when he landed on the ground. Flat on his face. Cockeyed. Bobby bent over to help him up.

—Jesus, what’re ya at, Bobby man?! Never sees, never sees ya out and around no more.

—Shhhh. Keith, listen to me. You have to keep it down or—

—Give us a smoke, Bobby man. I never sees you around.

—I don’t smoke no more.

Bobby helped Keith back to his feet and leaned him up against our fence. Keith hauled out a cigarette and lit it.

—What’s this then? Fuck am I suppose to do?

—Keith, you’re drunk or something and you’re gonna get in trouble.

wants trouble.
was just sittin’ around at nothing.
the one wants fuckin’ trouble.

—No, Keith, I came out to help you. If Natasha’s father catches you at his truck he’ll—

—Natasha? Fuckin’…Healy, is it? Where’s she to? Tell her to come out.

—She’s in bed, she can’t—

—Bed? Right place for her. Fine piece of gear like that…

He looked towards the window. I think he saw me before I ducked back.

—Keith, look, what do you want up this road? You’re gonna get caught—

—Ah, Bobby b’y, me and you are the best kind. Remember there last year we got the big racket on the go out back of the games room? Big fuckin’ sheet of ice and all hands shitfaced.

—Yes yes. You have to get home now, Keith. It’s gettin’ late and—

—I got no home no more. Takin’ off in the morning. Goin’ up to see Shannon.

—Goin’ where, Toronto? Sure how long do you know her?

—She told me I could go up and live with her and her mother. So I’m gone in the fuckin’ morning. Gone.

He said this like he was darin’ Bobby to defy him, although it sounded as much like he was still tryin’ to convince himself. Shannon. That was her name. Morris Kelly’s daughter. She came to the Cove for a couple of weeks every summer. Lived in Toronto with her mom all year. I didn’t know her only to say hello.

—But how are you gettin’ up there?

—Thumbin’ down to the Argentia ferry in the morning. Going from there.

—Thumbin’? To Ontario? You’re cracked, Keith.

—Cracked is right. Give us a smoke will ya?

—You’re smokin’ one, b’y.

They stayed chattin’ for another while. Keith gave Bobby a big old hug but Bobby didn’t respond, probably ‘cause he knew I might be watchin’. Keith told Bobby to have a good life and keep an eye on the young one, meaning me. He tottered on out the road and I heard a bottle smashin’ on the rocks in the ditch. Bobby came back in the house shakin’ his head. I told him to go home, that I was tired. I went downstairs to my room and wrote it all down in my journal.

I s’pose Keith must have been making his rounds, sayin’ goodbye to the Cove the only way he knew how: by pissin’ on trucks and yelpin’ and smashin’ things. I wished I was leavin’ with him. Must be so liberating to just pack a bag and hit the road. Leave it all. See the world. Never set eyes on this dull crowd again.

And to take off with Keith Kavanagh?

Keith and Natasha.

Natasha and Keith.

I liked the sound of it.

But I could hardly up and hightail it to Toronto with some fella I hardly knew. I’d be shot. I’d just have to bide my time, pick my moment. Besides, I doubted very much he was gone for good.

The next night there was a bonfire in at Devil’s Kitchen. That’s about a fifteen-minute drive off the main highway at the outskirts of the Cove. The track leadin’ into the pond is so narrow that if two cars meets, which happens often enough, one of ’em has to reverse and drive back ’cause there’s no room to pass. To put a stop to the endless rows that erupted because of
this, someone erected a flag to mark the halfway point so that the driver not yet past the flag when two cars met would be the one to back up ’cause they had the shorter distance to drive. Whoever’s already come the farthest has earned the privilege to keep on goin’. We never met a soul on the way in that night in Bobby’s father’s truck.

The fire was enormous. Someone tossed an old guitar in on top of it. Someone else kicked up a fuss and tried to save it but couldn’t get close enough. We heard the strings snap and twang one after the other. A lonely song for a dull crowd with not much to say.

I wandered down to the end of the old wharf. The night was warm. I stripped down to the buff and jumped in the pond. It was freezin’ at first, but I warmed up by the time I reached the speedboat moored off a small ways from shore. Bobby stood on the wharf shriekin’ at me:

—Are you alright? Don’t go no further. You’ll catch your death…

All that shit. I’d already made up my mind to leave him as soon as possible. As soon as I laid eyes on Keith Kavanagh again. I ducked underwater to drown out the squawk of Bobby in my ears. The real world left behind, I found myself weightless, floatin’ in tremendous silence. I looked up towards the surface as a flash of light burst across it. A car. I went back up for air. Bobby’s voice had a bit more panic in it now.

—Yes, b’y. I’m fine. I’m fine.

Just then someone came clompin’ past Bobby. Big boots thundering across the wharf, a leather jacket jingling. There was a whoop and a splash, and someone was thrashin’ towards the boat where I was still hangin’ on, treadin’ water to keep
warm. I held my breath. I somehow knew it was Keith. He made it to the other side of the boat and pulled himself up into it. Off came the leather jacket. He shouted back to shore at the car that had just arrived.

—That’s two packs you owes me. You knows what kind I smokes.

—Yeah, like fuck.

—Like fuck, is it? You wants tires left on that piece of shit you’ll have ’em for me tomorrow night.

—Touch my car, Kavanagh, and I’ll break your scrawny little neck.

I recognized the voice. Francey O’Dea. The fun drained out of my night. I was all of a sudden shivering, my teeth chattering uncontrollably like I’d been in the water for hours. I was naked, all my clothes out at the head of the wharf.

—Come on out and try it then, Fucko!

Keith stood up in the boat, still unaware of me. He was in the buff now too. He let out another whoop and did a clumsy backflip off the boat. Bobby shouted for me at the same time Keith hit the water.


—Shut up, Bobby! I can look after myself. Go home out of it.

Some of the small crowd still left on the beach laughed. I felt bad for him. The last thing I wanted to do was hurt or embarrass him. He was only ever sweet to me. I just didn’t want him here anymore, screamin’ out my name.

Francey O’Dea swaggered down to the wharf and stood next to Bobby. He nudged one of my socks with his boot, looked out over the water. Then Keith’s head popped up
alongside of me. He’d been under so long I’d nearly forgot about him. His long hair slicked back over his forehead. He gave me a big grin.

—A freshwater mermaid? So do I get a wish?

Now, comin’ from anyone else it would have sounded like the lamest line of bullshit. But there was something in the way he said it, with this real intensity, as if his whole world depended on whether or not I went along with him. He stared at me expectantly, not a trace of a smile.

He leaned his head back into the water and stared up at the stars. His brow scrunched up like he was struggling to make the right decision. He really was wishin’ for something and what I wouldn’t have given at that moment to jump inside his head and have a look around. I decided I’d grant him his one wish, just this once, as long as he wished for me. Then Bobby’s seagull yelp broke the spell.

—Fuck this, Natasha, I’m not standin’ around all night.

The fire was pretty much dead by then and Francey had gotten back into his car, a souped-up Monte Carlo with tinted windows and foolish neon lights under the front bumper. Some kind of super monstrous engine I heard the b’ys at school ravin’ on about like dickheads. Francey’s pride and joy. If you asks me, he’s just tryin’ to make up for his shortcomings in other departments.

A couple of trikes took off out the road and then, finally, Francey’s car turned around and disappeared. Keith brushed a strand of my wet hair back behind my ear. I shivered.

—You better get, Missy Healy. Your man don’t sound too pleased.

—He’s not my man.

I reached out and put my hand on his leg. His skin felt nice
under the water. He ducked under and came up on the other side of the boat.

—Hey, Bobby? Natasha says I can get a run out the road with ye. How’s that sound?

Bobby didn’t answer for a long while. He just stood there on the wharf, glancin’ back and forth between myself and Keith. I felt bad for him but I couldn’t stop my heart from going where it obviously wanted to go.

—Your clothes are soaked, Keith. You’ll get the seats wet.

—Who gives a fuck? You want me to walk out and freeze to death in the bushes somewhere? Fuck that, man.

When I made it back to the wharf Bobby told me to come round the other side ’cause he didn’t want Keith to see me naked. I pulled myself up in plain view and even glanced back towards Keith but he wasn’t lookin’. He was back in the boat struggling into his wet clothes. I got dressed as quick as I could, more so because I didn’t feel right in front of Bobby anymore. I heard a splash and Keith disappeared under the water. He was under for so long I thought I’d have to jump in after him. And I would have too. His head finally broke the surface about three feet from the head of the wharf. He gasped for breath and I reached out for him when he slipped climbing up the ladder. He weighed a ton, his boots and jeans and leather jacket drenched through. He stood on the wharf cursin’ and shivering and stripped himself down to his jeans again. He wrung out his tee-shirt and slung his jacket out into the pond.

BOOK: Down to the Dirt
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