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Authors: M. T. Anderson

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BOOK: Thirsty
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“Do not worry,” she croons. “You are mine.”

You are mine.

T
o make the Wompanoag Reservoir, they flooded two towns on purpose. It is the kind of thing that would be embarrassing to do by accident.

They arranged for great walls and trestles to be thrown up and aqueducts to pass through the forest.

They evacuated two little villages and paid some people to live somewhere else. Then at the time appointed, someone closed the sluice gates, and the river slowly rose and covered miles of the valley. The water crawled up tree trunks and ate steeples and hymnbooks and empty drawers. People say that there are still two towns under the reservoir. It is a strange idea, eels and sunfish hanging in windows and bedrooms.

The town of Clayton dribbles down the slopes of a deep valley on either side of the river. The whole town — the white houses, the new Catholic church, the old brick Victorian factories — faces the white wall of the dam. When we were younger, Tom and I used to talk about what it would be like if the dam disappeared and there were a huge tidal wave. We talked about it covering the school and leaving only the drifting oil from Cindy Brandt’s big hair.

Huge square buildings of granite and marble are spaced around the dam and the shores of the lake. They are like tombs or maybe whited sepulchers. In fact they are water purification plants and well houses, and I think one of them is a pump. They have made a park on one side of the reservoir with grass and paths. Leading across the still river and up a hill are the giant trestles that used to support the aqueduct. Now they are just columns, and they support pieces of the air.

We are walking down the precipitous steps. On some trees, the buds are out. On others, they are just a sort of red fuzz.

I want to talk to Tom alone about some things, mainly things like feeling strange wild thirsts and longings in your chest when the evening falls, and what to do about desire, but it’s difficult to bring that kind of thing up just after lunch. I want to know what I should do about Rebecca, and whether the hopping, giddy feeling I have is love; I want to know why I’m having trouble sleeping sometimes and what this strange hunger is. And I want to ask Tom because Tom knows Rebecca better than I do, and he is better looking than I am. We can sit by the shores of the obsidian lake and talk of whether I am in love.

“Then Choi goes into the central torture chamber,” says Tom. “There are all these people with hypodermics stuck into them and stuff. There’s this guy with nunchaks.”

“I don’t understand the hypodermics,” I say.

“Like shots,” says Tom.

“No,” I say, “why are they in the torture chamber?”

“Because they’re injecting people with heroin or something.”

“Later in the movie, did you see the scene with the truck?” asks Jerk from behind us.

I am bored. I keep looking around and fantasizing that we will run into Rebecca Schwartz on the buzzed grass.

Tom is saying, “So the guy with the nunchaks starts spinning them around in front of his face and so on, like, showing off.”

This could go on for some time.

Tom and Jerk are my two best friends, I guess.

When we were younger, we used to spend the afternoons running around in the woods together and we stayed over at one another’s houses and all. Late at night, after watching
Twilight Zone
reruns on cable, we’d look out the windows at the stars and have wide-eyed, frightened conversations about whether there was a God. Once, when Tom’s parents had his grandmother taken off to a home, after she went insane and kept breaking dishes and saying that the Lord would make whole what was sundered, Jerk and I went over to Tom’s house and invited him to go walking, and we all talked seriously about the whole thing and then told some dumb jokes and we all laughed, and later Tom thanked us for being such good friends. And Tom did the same for me when my grandfather died. So we have been friends for years.

We first called Jerk Jerk back when he was shorter than us. First us, then everybody else. Now he is much taller, even though he stoops to try to apologize for it. His name is Michael Polinsky. At least, that’s what he writes at the top of his papers.

Tom is slim, though not as slim as I am, and girls think he’s cute. He often reminds me of this. He doesn’t have braces. I have had braces since I was ten. Tom and I have been friends for at least that long. In some ways, out of the two, I am starting to prefer the braces.

Tom and I have been friends mainly because he has always had an imagination of some sort and so have I, I’d like to think. We pretended a lot of things a few years ago, back when we were into pretending.

Recently I have been noticing that his imagination isn’t really as good as I thought it was. It mainly revolves around things just being louder and more explosive than they really are. He’ll say things like, “What if you had this car, and it went five hundred miles an hour and shot flames out the tailpipe?” There is really no answer to that kind of question. The speed limit is fifty-five in Massachusetts anyway.

I picture myself with different friends. They are artists and dress in black, and we say cool things to one another and laugh about wrecking slick cars. I don’t know anyone like that, but I want to. Instead, I have to hear dumb plot synopses for B movies involving nunchaks and helicopters. Recently, I have found myself wanting to talk about more serious things with Tom. Instead, even though I know he must think about serious things, somehow we always end up talking about more nunchak movies, with maybe a brief break for a cat-o’-nine-tails. Sometimes I want to say, “Tom, enough cats-o’-nine-tails. Can we talk about something that doesn’t cause internal bleeding?”

But I don’t want to offend him; and I don’t want him to know that I am confused and don’t know what to do. I don’t want him to know about these new feelings of unrest in the evenings, unless, as I suspect, he feels them, too.

The sky is moving along quickly. I am nonsensically scanning the crags and paths for Rebecca, because I always feel like I might meet her here. Far in the distance, a man in black is walking toward us. The brown grassland by the shore rises up to the woods. Tom is still telling me about the combat. Choi has now been pinned to a metal table and they’re bringing a drill toward his face.

“So he grabs this gun —,” Jerk adds.

“It’s on the table right next to him,” explains Tom. “The other guy forgot about it completely.”

“Who grabs the gun?” I say, uninterested.

“Choi, duh,” says Tom. “The other guy has the drill.”

“Well, it’s not like you can only have one weapon in life,” I explain.

“Well, it’s not like you can only have one brain cell in life,” says Tom.

“Sorry,” I say. To our right are rows of bottlebrush pines. The shadows of the stark sun on the limbs blotch and stripe the bark. The man in black is getting closer.

“Who are you looking for?” Tom asks, squinting toward the trees.

I shrug nervously. “I’m not looking for anybody. I have never looked for fewer people in my life.”

I stop looking for Rebecca.

“Did you tell him,” says Jerk, “the part about the truck? Tell him about the truck.”

I feel like I am going to go insane.

I do not know how to explain why you have a crush on someone. I have a crush on Rebecca, but I cannot explain why I do because I do not know her well. When I think about it and ask myself about it, what comes to me are incidents. There was a hot summer night last year when I saw her at Persible Dairy, which is an ice cream stand. It was very hot that night, so no one could sleep.

She was in a summer dress, but she wore no shoes. Her feet arched and flinched on the warm gravel. She and her twenty-year-old sister were walking toward their hot, ticking car, talking.

“Shut up,” her sister said, laughing, “and eat your ice cream.”

“There are seven paths to wisdom,” Rebecca continued, raising her cone to her lingering tongue, “but I think the first three are smelly.”

She did a pirouette, and I saw her pockets were stuffed with napkins.

The afternoon drags on. We are talking and walking by the shore.

I have not yet thought of a way to lose Jerk. I can’t just say “Go home” or offer him ten dollars. If he weren’t with us, he wouldn’t have anything to do all afternoon. He would sit around and mope and watch
Creature Double Feature.
I cannot say anything serious in front of him, though, because he will offer some of his embarrassing advice. “Why not try different shoe sizes?”

As we cross a thin bridge over the dam’s rapids and eye the rusty cogs and ratchets of yesteryear, the two of them tell me the truck episode from the Choi movie. It is long and involves some chains and a busty blonde woman.

“That’s just like
The Hitcher,
” I say. “That happens at the end.”

We watch the man in black stalk toward us, taking the high path, stepping along it with a purposeful stride.

“That was a great flick,” says Jerk.

“It was,” I agree dully. “There was a truck scene like that at the end. Where he’s about to pull the woman in half by taking his foot off the brake pedal.”

“I saw it with Kristen Mosley,” says Tom.

“I am getting sick of seeing women pulled apart in horrible ways,” I say.

“On video,” adds Tom.

“Yes,” I agree, “I can never tire of it in real life.”

“No,” says Tom. “I saw it with Kristen Mosley on video. Sort of saw it. Needless to say, there were a couple of things that interfered with my concentration.”

I walk on for a minute, following the soft tawny shoulder of grass around the rim of the lake. The sneering pride in Tom’s voice is ringing through my head.

“It was a wicked good film,” says Jerk, “but a little bloody. Bloodier than a very bloody thing from the planet Hemorrhage.”

I turn to Tom and challenge him suddenly. “What did you mean? What did you mean you
sort of
saw it?” I ask, even though I know the answer.

Tom slows a step. He looks at me slyly and answers, “You know. There we were, on the couch.”

The wind has risen. Little whitecaps catch on the lake. “I don’t believe you said that,” I say.

With a glint of calculation in his eye, he boldly adds, “Two big wobbly diversions.”

I am suddenly irritated. He is doing this to irritate me. “I don’t believe you’re telling us this,” I say.

“What’s your problem?” says Tom, still looking at me boldly. The man in black approaches.

“I’m serious,” I say to Tom nervously. “I can’t believe you’re so cocky. Can’t you see it’s embarrassing?”

“For you, maybe,” says Tom.

“Are you boasting?” I ask.

“I have something to boast about. You’re hyper. What the hell is your problem?”

“I do not have a problem,” I say. “My problem is the fact that you’re doing this male boob-boast maneuver.”

Tom keeps pace with me. He is smirking. The wind waps his hair. “They’re sort of like Nintendo,” he presses. “You get bored pretty quick if you own a set, but it’s fun to go over and play with a friend’s. Bet you ten bucks that guy in black’s a CIA agent.”

“Screw this,” I say harshly. “You’re talking like a . . .” Whatever I am going to say is stupid and prissy, so I do not say it.

“You’re so goddamn jealous!” he says. “What’s your problem?”

“Stop it, you two,” says Jerk.

But Tom insists, “Lately you are always having a problem. You are being a complete peckerhead.”

“I am not a peckerhead,” I protest.

“Medical evidence suggests —”

“Would you shut up? I just want to — I don’t know.” I am not going to say a thing about girls. That will feed his ego.

“For about three weeks,” says Tom, now slightly hot, “you’ve been acting like this.”

“Like what?”

“Like a jerk. Pardon the expression. For about three weeks you’ve been acting like an asshole. You’ve been jumping down our throats. You’ve been saying weird things. I don’t know what’s up with you. You have more goddamn baggage than Grand Central Station.”

I say bitterly, “Here we go.”

Tom is saying, “Look, Chris. I don’t want to take your shit just because you want to feel up Rebecca goddamn Schwartz.”

I stare at him. I can feel the blood shoot up to my face. Birds are wheeling in the trees. “How did you know?” I ask.

“What do you mean? It’s not some state secret. What’s your problem? You never talk to her, you stutter when you try, it’s just a crush.”

“You haven’t told her, have you?” I say. I hope to sound rough, but I sound squeaky.

“Who needs telling?” he asks. “You’re being pathetic. Just ask her out. It’s not like she’s some hot sex goddess with the biggest tits in history.”

“And I apologize for thinking of her in exactly that way,” I say.

“I’m serious, man,” says Tom. Jerk is standing a bit apart, staring at us warily. “You should just ask her out. What’s stopping you? The worst thing that can happen is she laughs at you for months and it becomes this big urban legend.”

So I ask, “You think I should?”

Tom looks at me and starts to smile. “You’re fishing for compliments,” he says. “Aren’t you?” He is looking slightly malicious. “What do you want me to say?”

BOOK: Thirsty
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