Let me tell you about down south, where a motherfucker might as well not even have a mouth.
A strange boy is weaving a course of grace and havoc on a yellow skateboard through midday sidewalk traffic. What a strange, strange boy: he sees the cars as sets of waves, sequences of mass and space...
Q: Do you recognize what this depicts?
A: Yes, sir.
Q: What does it depict?
A: It's an...it looks like an aerial photograph of Blue Island.
Q: You said photograph?
A: Well, map of Blue Island.
Q: Map of Blue Island, Arkansas. Take this highlighter pen and mark for me on here where you live, or lived at the time of the murders.
A: Right here.
Q: What you highlighted--is that the address?
Q: What is--state your address, and keep your voice up for the tape machine.
A: 612 cherry Tree Lane.
Q: In the Galilee Estates Trailer Park?
Q: Remember to answer yes or no, otherwise it's no good for the machine.
A: Oh. Yes.
Q: And were you a resident at that address on May 8 of this year, 1993?
A: Yes, I was.
Q: 612--which side of the street, which corner is that? You seemed before to have a little problem with directions.
A: It's the left side.
Q: Is that the--as you are facing it?
A: It is the right side if I'm facing it.
Q: Is that when you're facing south?
A: Uh, yes, sir.
Q: It would be the southeast corner, where you live?
This is a photograph of a boy. It was taken by an unknown photographer on the night of June 8,1993, in the booking department of the Blue Island, Arkansas Police Department. At first glance you might think the subject is female--he has long black hair and a delicate, queer triangle of a mouth--but then the adam's apple, and the name. His t-shirt is too big for him and the icon behind Police Dept Blue Island AR 45322600980493 BEVERLEY ADRIEN ISAAC looks vaguely familiar--Metallica, maybe, Megadeth, Morrissey. Morrissey. That's right. His name is Adrien Beverley, and he is eighteen years old. You have probably seen him before, even if it wasn't him that you saw. Right now his life depends on being able to look normal, but that's a ballgame of an entirely different color.
People are going to remember my name after I'm gone. I'm not a person like other people.
Adrien's best friend Aron looks even more like a girl in his mug shot. Gold stud in one ear, small oval face, ringletted blond mullet. Looking at him, you have two portraits to choose from--that of a barely pubescent boy, or a thirty-year-old grandmother. Since this picture was taken, however, the focus has tightened. With a new short haircut and Wal-Mart button-down shirt Aron proves, finally, that he is only himself and no one else, like a smear of DNA on a slide, the sweet scrawny kid older guys forced to his knees in the locker room, junior high. Adrien no longer looks like he does in his mug shot, either. He's gained some weight. He has let his lawyer's secretary cut his hair--but only to the chin, and he isn't going to unbutton the top button of his shirts, and he isn't going to wear his sneakers, he is going to wear his boots, especially now, of all times. One day his lawyer actually asked him if he was wearing eyeliner.
Like I'd have that. In jail.
Chicken-Chuckie--Charlie Manson: just a few of the names he hears often these days, outside the courthouse. The abuse doesn't hurt (at least, you know, you're being discussed, and that can sometimes be more gratifying than it is distressing) but the injustice--it stings like dye. He's been overexposed. Now everyone has not only seen him in the flesh but a lot of other stuff that he didn't want to deal with, every last piece of paper he'd written Pink Floyd lyrics on and never bothered to throw away, all of the old stupid clothes and haircuts and lame handwriting styles he'd ever had. Why couldn't he just die like everyone else, gradually and with dignity, self by self? Shortly before the arrest, maybe the second or third time the cops brought him in for questioning, Sheriff Nor shoved a notebook under his nose, one of those black-and-white speckled primers you get at Walgreen's, with his old name on the cover. The handwriting was middle-school handwriting, maybe sixth grade: wide and loose and naive. The not ebook, he recalled, had been in the back of his closet in a box he hadn't touched in years, along with a few pairs of Jams and Choose Your Own Adventure books and a fractured Chipmunk Punk record. Sheriff Nor jabbed his index finger into the pentagram drawn on the cover, as if to turn it on. Isn't it the truth you told Pastor Bolle last summer you didn't believe in God? Yes, I did. But I was confused; I wasn't sure what I believed anymore. (Actually, what he'd said was, don't bother with me, preacher man, I'm going straight to hell.) Isn't it true you told Pastor Bolle that you were a witch? Yes, it is. But not a black witch, not a white witch. I'm gray.
The day they took his picture at the police station Adrien ordered himself to be calm, and suddenly, preposterously, he was, just like that, like swinging a bat, and connecting, for the very first time in his life. Ratboy: the kind of cool you can't destroy. His own lawyer confirmed this, asking if he was wearing eyeliner. Adrien knows about marks, the way God or the devil or whoever puts their stamp on what belongs to them. It doesn't seem impossible that this could be true, on his face, like ashes on his forehead that can't be washed off.
Hold my breath as I wish for death... Oh, please, God, wake me...
By the time he was arrested Adrien had convinced himself that he hated all superstition, not just theirs, but after he'd spent enough time in a fluorescent cell eating bags of double-stuffed Oreos and Ruffles and Planter's Heat, he began to crave it, like apple juice. One way or another his body always betrays him. Faith, or whatever it is, isn't a church with a marquee out front. THE BEST WAY TO STAND FOR GOD IS ON YOUR KNEES. It's greasy and salty. It's fried in lard. It's everything he misses and doesn't want to miss, the parking lots of the motels along the interstate, the wet concrete of the Galilee Estates Trailer Park, his mother's disappearing teeth.
Oh, Manchester, so much to answer for...
If she was here right now, he could be a child again, for sure. Sometimes he burrows into his thin nest of blankets and tucks his hands between his knees and pretends that he is. It's another talent he's discovered--going backwards like this, resolving into the shape of the boy he once was who had always known this day was coming.
Can't sleep? We'll just stay up then.
All night, Mama?
Forever if you want. I'm not leaving you, baby.
Q: Before we begin I just want to say that I know how difficult this is for you. We sure do appreciate your cooperation today.
A: That's okay.
Q: And I also have to say to you like I say to everyone else that you have the right to talk to a lawyer first or have him set right next to you, do you understand that?
A: Yes, I do.
Q: Will you please state your full name and where you live?
A: Leonard Leroy Sibley, 1414 East Roark Street, Blue Island, Arkansas.
Q: Who do you live there with?
A: My wife, Frederica Louisiana Sibley, and my son -- I used to live with my son, Philip Edward Sibley.
Q: Okay. And where do you work at again?
A: The Piggly Wiggly on Maine Street. I'm general manager these days.
Q: Okay. Now, this paper kinda slides a little bit, so I'm just going to hold onto it up here. If you would -- I don't believe we showed you this when we talked to you before -- this is an area map of Blue Island. Would you take this yellow marker, please, sir, and see if you can locate where all you live on there? If it will help you out, let me show you, this here is Interstate 55, this here is the Red Baron Truck Wash, and the Bethlehem Woods are this part in the grey, this here is South Robert, and this area here has been highlighted.
A: 1385 East -- that's Romaine Street. Here. Roark. I live right here.
This is a photograph of a man in his mid-thirties. His name is Len Sibley. It was taken by a photographer from the Memphis Commercial Appeal outside the courthouse on the day of the grand jury indictments. Len looks familiar, too. He is one of those men perilously balanced on the threshold of "overweight:' with a tidy mustache and firm blunt chin, and eyes that are placid, not angry. Looking at his own picture filled him with heartburn. He didn't want to see himself like this, especially on the inside of a page, and he didn't want to see his son, either, or, rather, all that was left of him, last year's Boy Scout photo, 8 x 10, on the front page every morning and the news every night. That was Phil (seven years old, brown hair, brown eyes, neatly-trimmed bangs, not smiling), not a body, not a memory. In his picture Phil Sibley doesn't seem like the kind of kid who'd be friends with the other murdered boy, who doesn't look so hot in his own second-grade school photo--mutt-blond and greasy with dark circles un der his eyes and a wettish wound of a smile. Carey's picture is so pathetic, in fact, that Len almost felt sorry for the little asshole.
Len's wife, Freddie, looks decent in her photograph, partially folded under the wing of her husband's coat, yielding her raw upturned face to the crowd. Freddie Sibley is in her mid-twenties, redhaired, and, like all other women her size, "chubby." You can tell by looking at her that she has a voice full of bubbles, the kind that complains easily, when it's comfortable. It appears from the picture that she feels comfortable with Len.
The photograph of Carey's parents isn't very good. They were talking when it was taken, so their mouths are open, contorted mid-expletive. Angie Pine is tall, big-boned, with violet eyes and olive skin, and a long horsey face. Looking at her is like smelling her; you can't deny she is there. Her husband Wade is a foot taller, with slightly bowed legs, a high stubborn forehead, loud blue eyes, a face like chewed gristle. It was common knowledge around the neighborhood that he'd lost his jewelry store in the Queen Victoria Mall last year over some shady insurance business, and before that he and his wife had apparently gotten in some trouble trafficking in hot antiques from Ozarks summer homes. This isn't particularly useful information, though. Failure is so common around here it's more or less the essence of local character-one starts out as a person, fails at it, then tries again as someone else.
Both families live in the same neighborhood, on the south side of town, close to the motels on I-55. Their boys went to Blue Island Elementary, a few blocks away. You could call it a neighborhood, but it isn't, really. People tend not to stay too long. Families break up, default on their mortgages, find work in another state, move on. There has been some muttering that in a few short years it would be altogether "gone?' You weren't going to like your neighbors. You'd need burglary bars on all your windows and doors. Your house wasn't going to be worth jack. Why does the cracker cross the road?
They lived on Roark Street, two blocks north of South Robert, Blue Island's main drag. It's the one with the Queen Victoria Mall just off the exit to I-55, Blue Island first Baptist, Blue Island Elementary, Taco Bell, Long John Silver's, flash Market, Texaco. On the south side of Blue Island, about three miles from South Robert, there aren't a whole lot of streets. There is, however, the Galilee Estates Trailer Park, right where the service road dead-ends, and the Xanadu Lanes Trailer Court behind the old burned-out elementary school west of Reserve Street, and halfway between South Robert and the Galilee Estates is the Hampton Court Mobile Home Park, about two hundred yards from the dog racing track. Maine Street brings the north and south sides of Blue Island together, a cement vericose vein running straight downtown, with the public library, Blue Island Savings & Loan, dollar store, Thrifty's, Mobile Home Sales Model Trailers Open. If you go far south on Maine, past South Robert and the vacant lots and paw n shops, you'll be in a part of town where no white people go, except cops.
Len saw a lot of black people in his day-to-day life, mostly from behind the wheel of his car. Black drivers, black passengers. Pedestrians. All in the line for the same ride. Once in awhile he saw them up close, live as videotape, on the sidewalk in front of the barber shop or in line at Harold's Chicken Shack (where he always picked up for his family on Sunday nights) and maybe, maybe once in a great while at the soup-and-salad-bar at the Bonanza behind the Queen Victoria Mall, and whenever he did he felt an awful pubescent tug at his bowels, the way he did in seventh grade, showering alone in the boys' locker room, pierced from behind by a lone whistle. He didn't want to be reminded of what he'd learned since he moved to Blue Island, that "they" can smell white disgrace, that "they" pick up its rank pheromone the way a mosquito finds skin. That if you're white, it's not okay to smell poor unless that means smelling like Ivory Soap. And Len couldn't say that he always smelled like that.
Before the murders, Len had never stopped to consider whether or not he felt safe where he lived. It was only afterwards that he realized he couldn't afford safety, even if he wanted it; safety was a luxury someone of his means could never hope to afford. Danger was danger, but it was cheap, and therefore easier to give up when it was time to move. He'd ordered his son never to ride his bike into the Bethlehem Woods, that boggy four-acre tangle of weeds on the south side of South Robert, right on the interstate, never, not ever. Even though it was so close, just a few blocks from their house? Absolutely not. Don't you know? Drifters sleep there, sell drugs there. In the daytime people have found horrible things. Like what? You hear these kinds of things from people who tell you they heard it first-hand. Dead babies hanging from ropes, covered in candle wax. Kids sitting around bonfires with their faces painted black, chanting in what sounded like Spanish. Who? Who? The stories, of course, only made the boys w ant to go there. Most of Blue Island is so flat, and Bethlehem is so sensationally varied, scored with deep muddy ravines and the scars of wheels and a soupy bayou leaking from the Mississippi River, dirt trails snaking through an underbrush of briars, cottonwood, sprouting ferns. The boys didn't even mind the mosquitoes. For minutes that seemed like hours, they'd pedal furiously, the interstate roaring just beyond the trees.
Before the murders, Len and Wade didn't know each other too well, and didn't even really speak beyond monosyllables for the first couple of weeks after their sons were killed. Then, one day, after a hearing neither of their wives had attended, Wade approached Len as he was unlocking his car door in the parking-lot of the county courthouse and a long comic-strip of obscenities unfurled from his tongue. The strain was really getting to him. He needed to blow off some steam. He gestured at his car, said he had some hardware in the back. Come with me, buddy? They went to a vacant lot way back on Reserve. Wade handed Len a loaded 20-gauge shotgun and positioned a watermelon on a tree trunk about twenty yards away. Just pretend, he said, just focus, and Len tried, imagining the bodies of those two white-black kids bursting like abscesses, his brain screaming at him to remember and just pretend as he fired an entire barrel of bullets into the ripe fruit, and pictured his little boy, a slab of tough, blanched meat, a nd Wade's little boy, crotch a raw gaping smile, and felt nothing like a feeling. That's it, Wade said, he's still twitching, come on, one more time. Wade's voice was sublime, the sound of pure authority, made from scratch. Oh, God, be not far from us! Oh, God, make haste to help us! Len almost felt guilty that his son hadn't been castrated, too.
He and his wife had less than few friends. They had acquaintances, of course, at the supermarket where Len worked, at church, parents of the kids in Phil's class, and their immediate neighbors, but no one they felt related to. Wade and Angie, on the other hand, never looked lonesome. They had parties just about every weekend. Far into Sunday morning the Sibleys would listen to the good times they weren't having crash like surf against their bedroom wall--hooting and hollering and motoring and monkeyshining and David Allan Coe snarling my long hair just can't cover up my red neck through an aged, rasping boom box. The Sibleys had only been to one of these parties. On a Saturday night about six months back they'd left Phil at home with twelve-year-old Danielle from down the block and went across the street with two bottles of Boone's Farm and a dish of franks and beans. At six, the party was already at a rolling boil. Wade manned the grill with his tongs and long fork, massaging mysterious cuts of meat, a blond question-mark curling down his back. Angie spent the evening planted in a lawn chair, legs spread, a sweating bottle of Schlitz in one hand and a long brown cigarette in the other. She was the only woman at the party other than Freddie. Nearly all of the guests wore Bo Riddle boots, mirrored sunglasses and droopy, inscrutable mustaches. Sheriff Nor was there, too, of all people, in a crisp Hawaiian shirt, drinking milk. Eventually Len and Freddie went home with their crusty casserole dish and a pair of cloying apple wine headaches and agreed they'd never go back.
Len lay in bed and thought about something that had happened that night, dwelling on it awhile so it would stop itching him awake, like a bug bite that needs to be scratched sore. They had all been sitting in lawn chairs in the Pines' backyard. Freddie got up to go to the bathroom. Wade sat down in her seat next to Angie; she was drinking red wine out of a jelly jar and talking to some guys on her right. Wade looked at Len and grinned. Len grinned back. Then something inside ordered him to look down at Angie's lap, so he obeyed. What he saw he wished he hadn't seen. Wade's hand up one leg of her shorts. Moving the hand, into the plain of her thigh. Angie didn't seem to notice. She was laughing; someone somewhere had told a joke. Len didn't look up, didn't want to risk eye contact with Wade, and decided not to move, not to blink. If he did, Wade would know he was watching, that he wasn't in outer space. Len's pupils dilated on her dimpled thigh. Hmm. Cottage cheese would taste good.
Adrien Isaac Beverley. Age: eighteen. Height: five feet eight inches. Weight: one hundred and sixty-five pounds. Identifying marks: "GOOD" and "EVIL" tattooed on the knuckles of both hands; a pentagram on his left bicep; "NEELY" on his right bicep; "CLAUDIA" on his chest. Level of school completed: ninth grade. Occupation: none. Vehicle: none.
The picture stays the same, but the caption changes; depends on the day. He understands, deeply. It's the way it has to be. What's black and white and read all over?
Outside the courthouse they yell all of his names as he walks by, but inside they just whisper; look, look. The courtroom's like their bedroom, the place where they talk in their sleep.
As he plods handcuffed down the aisle, they pinch themselves; some cry. They want to be certain they're there in person, live at the scene. That he's real, a body, a word made flesh. Can a legend, he wonders, be touched? Or smelled, like sweat? Do they breathe him in when he walks by?
Mostly, he's just sitting there, getting looked at from behind. He doesn't really listen. All that is a matter of record gnaws at his silken patience. What happened to get him here was this.
Phil Sibley and Carey Pine, both seven years old. Left home on their bicycles May 8, 1993, at approximately five p.m. Phil's mother saw them ride away from her front window, not knowing that Carey had been put on punishment by his stepfather and ordered to clean the carport. His mother was inside the house on the phone. Wade was at traffic court. He came home around six. Angie told him that Carey and his bike were gone, for how long she wasn't sure. They went looking for him, found nothing, called the police.
Where was Adrien that day? Mound three-thirty he and his girlfriend Neely Hansen walked over to the high school to pick up Aron, who'd arranged to mow his uncle's lawn downtown for five bucks. Why wasn't Adrien at school? Oh, he'd dropped out. And the guidance counselor had just asked Neely to take a leave of absence on account of her pregnancy, which, at twenty-four weeks, had only just started to show. As they trudged down the interstate service road a fleet of police cars screamed by, a technicolor cyclone of wheels and chrome and blue and red, and Neely waved gleefully after them--pinwheels, she squealed, on acid, in a voice like unadulterated methamphetamine, cooked to vapor. Hearing it, Adrien's stomach tensed with shame, and more shame. He didn't like to admit it, but the laugh was a problem for him. Had been from the beginning. The day after they met he came up from behind her in Wal-Mart, hoping to scare the shit out of her, wearing a black 48 FF bra on his head, but instead of fright her face lit u p with delight and her laugh rang out, atonal and delirious, like the strings of an abused violin. You are awesome and a halfi Eventually he left her to go meet Aron, who was by the exit playing a video game, like Beethoven, with a vengeance. Adrien was suddenly stricken, even heartbroken. How could Neely have agreed to meet up later? He'd already fucked her, and he still couldn't remember her name.
Oh, yes, he'd seen something special in her; he isn't that cold. A sharp, unconscious bravery in her long pony face touches him somewhere--exactly where, he's not sure. And her red hair--he loves that, too, dull and bright as an old penny, and as cheap, and as real. She's also three full inches taller than he, just over six feet, with the hips and chest of a pubeless boy, like that girl in Sleepaway Camp who turns out to be both the killer and male: a real carpenter's dream-flat as a board and needs a screw. Most importantly (and this is most important), she needs him. Always has, even before they met. He can't say he loves her--love is always sure "why;" he only knows "what"--but he does adore her in specific tableaux, like the one in which she is sobbing violently, abusively, in his mother's arms on their living-room sofa, late at night. He doesn't know what she's upset about, if she's been fighting with her mom or her aunt or best friend Zarida or even with him (probably him) but he does know how it feels to stand there, smoking a Newport and watching her scream into his mother's neck. This is peace.
Neely comes to all the pre-trial hearings. When she can't get a sitter she brings their baby son Gabriel and rocks him in her arms, his mouth plugged with a pacifier. She is very proud of him; he is the nicest thing she owns. From a distance Gabriel seems normal--proportionately fussy and un-fussy--but Adrien has never held the baby, or even seen him up close, so he can't know for sure. The guards at the detention center won't let him use the regular visiting room and make him sit with his family in a tiny cubicle instead, dirty squares of chewing gum stuck to the glass between them like cancelled postage. Poor baby; Gabriel didn't get Neely's orange hair or green eyes. Instead he is skim-pale and blue-eyed, head covered with thin black feathers. This hurts, so much, to look at. Adrien never wanted to be a father. If things were as they should be, he wouldn't even be this baby's father; he'd be his mother. The only things fathers give their sons, after all, are diaper rash and bad memories, like that memory Adrien has of being bathed by his mother in the kitchen sink of some house in some state sometime in the seventies and the man with the furry mustache and womanish laugh pointing over his shoulder at empty space. Look, little buddy! Look! Monsters!
After his father left, Adrien's mother came down with the transience virus. She had it for several years. Every now and then, without warning, she'd arrive home from work and announce to Adrien and his two-years-younger sister Norma that they were up and leaving and then, just like that, they'd load up her car with suitcases and garbage bags full of sheets and dishes crunching in boxes and head down the highway to some other state some other where. Sometimes it was just the three of them, but more often than not they moved with one of Jeanine's boyfriends or some couple she was friendly with--Mirisa and D.B., Wendy and Derrick, Mackie and Erica Lee. They never stayed longer than six months in any one place, though the reasons for leaving seemed to vanish almost as instantly as they'd packed and left. Once they moved to Springfield, Missouri and left after a mere nine days. Adrien can remember being woken up in the middle of the night in one of these places--Saginaw, Texas, or maybe Murfreesboro, Tennessee--a nd the cold-water shock of the bedroom light pitilessly turned on overhead, the glum look of his mother's back, expressive as a smile, as she bent over his suitcase. She had about as much choice in returning home as a boomerang careening back to its point of departure.
The shrinks only seem interested in these years; none of them ask about the charges against him. He answers readily all the queries they do pose, but the shrinks look exasperated anyway, as if they are so prepared to find him difficult that they can't see how easy it is to get him to talk. Only one was a woman, grandmother-age, a little brown mouse of a thing in a long white coat. When he was with her, he remembered something he hadn't thought of in years, an incident so misshapen and unfocused it wasn't really an event, more like a phone conversation on which he'd eavesdropped. He was three years old, and his father was gone, and Jeanine had a night job at the Maybeiline factory just over the bridge. Usually his Meemee--his grandmother, that is--took care of him, but one night she couldn't do it because she was in the hospital with something or other and Jeanine left him with a woman who lived on the other side of the trailer park with her two teenage sons; she ran some kind of babysitting business. "What h appened that night?" the mousy doctor asked. Her clipboard was in her lap, and her pen was down. Adrien could sense that she really wanted to know, and he didn't want to disappoint her.
"I can't be sure," he said.
The woman prodded him with her eyes. "You were touched?" she asked, and wasn't really asking.
He gazed deep into her pupils, and his heart twisted. He had heard these questions before, from his own mother, that night fifteen years ago, driving home from the babysitter's house, but answering either of these women wasn't so easy. He had a hard time keeping things Separate--scenes from movies, locker-room threats--in a childhood blurry with roads and bad dreams. When he was in the hospital for the first time, at the age of fifteen, with a stomach full of Motrin, his mother asked him again. Did he remember? Or was he too young? No, he told her, he remembered. Jeanine moved her head slowly back and forth, as if it hurt to do so. "Oh, why did I leave you?" she said. "When I came back she had all you kids on the couch"--she swiped tears from her cheeks--"on the couch, lined up, dead silent. You'd been told to."
This time Adrien knew what he didn't know at fifteen--the correct answer--so he gave the nice lady doctor what she wanted most. It was something he couldn't have for himself, but that his mother had saved, a row of mysteriously obedient children sitting straight up on a naugahyde couch, silent as dead stuffed chicks.
Toni Nesbitt, age 34. 441 Walton, Galilee Estates Trailer Park, Blue Island, Arkansas. Statement given to Sheriff Gil Nor and homicide detective DeWayne Grady, Blue Island Police Department, 1325 Maine Street, Blue Island, Arkansas. June 1, 1993, 10:14 a .m.
I heard so many rumors about Adrien I decided to play Nancy Drew. I invited him over my house and dropped my kids at their grandma's. I had got some books about witchcraft and stuff like that out of the library. I laid them out on a table where he could see them. He told me how he'd been questioned by the cops. I asked him, "Out of everyone in Blue Island, why'd they come to you? There are beaucoup people in this town, Why you?" And he looked at me really weird and I mean really weird. And he said, "Because I'm evil."
"You know, I wonder about those two."
Len looked up from his plastic Burger King cup, filled four fingers with rye whiskey. Wade was looking back at him longingly, jaw braced for a belch, one hand on his belly. Len soaked up his gaze.
To be honest, Len hadn't a clue; which two? He and Wade were sitting in the Pines' backyard, in lawn chairs, by the cold barbecue. The two prosecutors had just left. Angie and Freddie were inside the house. Phil and Carey were dead, and Adrien and Axon might as well be. Len wondered about them all, and wished he was drinking Coke instead. He put his cup down on the ground.
"I figure I do," he said.
Tonight's meeting had been the first that wasn't wet. The parents sat tearless and wordless in the living-room for as long as it took, listening and nodding. The prosecutors shuffled through sheaves of yellow college--ruled paper, and did their best to explain. Len missed most of the details. His wife was too distracting. She wasn't doing anything-just sitting there next to him--but he was oddly preoccupied by his nearness to her, as if they were two strangers pressed close together on a crowded bus, and she smelled like yesterday's hot lunch. She had on a flowered dress with a stiff lace collar that looked like a napkin she'd forgotten to remove after a meal. Her lips moved insensibly, as if she were mouthing along to a Mentos commercial. Poor thing. This was information she wanted, and Len did not. The green fiber found on the sole of Phil's shoe that matched a t-shirt belonging to Adrien's sister; "secondary transfer." The black-handled survivalist knife with the jagged edge found in a septic tank a hundre d yards from Aron Elliott's trailer. The written statements of Blue Island teenagers who said they knew about midnight bonfires in Bethlehem, sacrifices over makeshift altars, drunken orgies at abandoned cotton gins.
Len couldn't just sit there, motionless, and listen to all this; he had to move, and keep moving. His eyes toured the room, from face to grim face, along the furniture, the liver-colored carpet, the scrofubus walls. The toilet in one corner, cordoned off by a green paper screen. The shrink-wrapped teal sofa. The clock in the shape of a cat, swinging its pendulous tail above Wade's head. Wade. He was wearing a yellow t-shirt with SECURITY stencilled between his nipples. And Angie, beside him--she had on jeans and a green turtleneck, and was smoking a long brown cigarette. Len followed its trail to her eyes. And connected. Take a picture, she seemed to say. We'll last longer. He tore his eyes away.
He'd have preferred to be paired up with another couple, if there'd been a choice. Wade was-well, he just was. And Len remembered Angie from church as someone the Grandfather (Papaw, his mother's father) would have called a "knee bender." Sunday after Sunday she'd run up to the front of the church and fail to her knees before the preacher in exhibitionist surrender, face dripping with ecstasy. It was worse than if she'd streaked down the aisle stark naked. After her son was murdered, she stayed in her seat.
"I wish you could have known Little Man," said Wade, draining his cup of whiskey. "Better than you did know him, which wasn't much at all."
Len was listening the way he listened to the prosecutors: with one eye.
"He loved everything living. Babies, puppies. Even rats and snakes. And bats'
Len peered into his cup and nodded, recalling a different child. A child who threw one of Phil's sneakers in the toilet last spring and peed on it and told Phil you got to eat a piece of my poo or you're going to heaven in a hatbasket! Freddie had wanted to go across the street and have a word with Angie, but Phil sobbed and begged her not to do that--please, no, Mama, please, no. The whole thing had been so confounding that Len hadn't had the energy to confront it himself. He merely sighed, and cracked Phil a warm can of Mr. Pibb's.
"And roaches. A little lamb of God."
Another time Len took the boys to a wrestling match, and Carey refused to stay in his seat; he threw his popcorn in the air, kept kicking the seat in front of him, and was the most violent screamer in their row. You fight like a girl! You must have a bald pussy! How was it possible for his father to come up with so many alternative stories? Was there really so much to say about someone who only lived for seven years?
Wade reached for the bottle of whiskey next to his chair. "I wonder about those two," he said again, and suddenly Len understood.
"Oh, yeah," he said, though he'd already agreed long ago. "Me, too.
Actually, he hadn't been able to resist wondering the very same thing, ever since the arrests in June. He liked to watch them in the courtroom, to imagine it: little shrunken snail of Axon Elliott with his chin tucked into his neck, and sleek eel-black Adrien Beverley, rocking in his chair beside him. On their knees in a room somewhere, one behind the other, sheened with sweat. Porcine, appalling. He almost believed that if he stared long enough, something sublime would emerge between them, like Bloody Mary in the bathroom mirror, if you believed enough. As a little boy, Logan said she would. He was just a foster brother, but he was two years older, and a juvie hail vet. He knew all the best games, the ones with no toys. The Grandfather caught them once and got really steamed. If you don't quit it I'll knock the butter right off your bread!
"What they did, I should have seen it coming." Wade shook his head. "Guys on the force tell me things. I used to be like you, I didn't want to know about it. But that's blindness."
Len nodded again, and this time he meant it. If only he had more pain; then he'd be able to see everything. That had always been the problem; he'd never had enough pain. From now on, he decided, he'd stay close to Wade. He'd stand right by his side. Maybe, as the crowd watched and the cameras fed their image to the rest of the world, the soft lines that marked their bodies as separate would disappear, and in their grief the two of them would appear as one person.
"You're right," Len said.
"You didn't really know him. But you have to take my word for it. Little Man was one hell of a kid. Now, we had our problems with him." Wade held up his hands. "I won't dispute that. But it was not his time. No, sir, not his time."
His face wrinkled as if he had to sneeze, and he dropped his cup. His hands went to his face. In moments, tears bled through his fingers.
Len shifted in his seat and released a soft, furtive belch. Wade's cup, between his feet, wept whiskey onto the concrete. A breeze reached under Len's shorts, crawled up his thighs, into his groin. It was the only thing he felt.
Funny. Wade's hands, he noticed for the first time, were so small for such a brawny man, the fingers delicate and tapering. Did God stitch those hands on that body by accident, or as a joke? And when could he have a Coke?
Blue Island Police Department Incident Report, Missing Juvenile, Complaint Number 1678, regarding Carey Wardell Pine, dated 5-8-93, filed by Wade Pine, 7:30 pm. Reporting Officer: Patrolman Vonnie Rimes # 213.
Complainant stated that the missing juvenile is his step-son. The victim is on Ritalin for hyperactivity but on this date he has not taken his medication. The last time the victim was seen by his parents he was cleaning the front yard at approximately 5:30 pm. The victim was last seen at 6:00 pm by Frederica Sibley. He was with her son, Philip Sibley, who is also reported missing.
The victim is described as 4'4" tall, 50 lbs, with blond hair and brown eyes. He was last seen wearing blue jeans, blue sneakers and a white long-sleeve shirt.
This is the story of the life of a saint. We begin with a few commonplaces.
first of all, a saint is born dead, so he has nothing to fear.
Second of all, when you're a saint, pain isn't something that happens to you; it's natural as breathing, as hunger or thirst. The real saint will always welcome the lick of fire against his flesh. He relishes the electric lash of birchwood between his shoulder blades.
Did you know that Saint Benedict rolled in thorn hedges?
Saint Macarius sat on an anthill, naked.
The most important thing to remember is that a saint's body is just a heap of nerveless flesh, a bunch of rags. You don't really flay his skin. You strip him.
One day during a recess in the pre-trial hearings, a black woman approached him at the defense table. It was September. She was the first of her kind.
Adrien couldn't tell much about her from what she was wearing--a tailored cream-colored suit that gave her an aura of bright, unborrowed dignity, like someone who owned one especially nice outfit. And he wasn't sure how old she was, either; early thirties, maybe, probably younger. At first glance he'd assumed she was a reporter, but then he saw that she didn't have a notebook or pen.
She came right up to where he was sitting--his guards didn't seem to notice--and leaned down. He could smell her, like a funeral: sweet and heady.
"Boy," she said, "how can you just sit there like that?"
He just looked back at her.
"You don't get mad, you don't look sad." She leaned closer. "And you didn't even do it, did you?"
Her gaze was full of blinks; her curiosity was personal, not professional.
So if she wasn't from the media, then where the fuck was she from? Certainly not around here; no sane black person in Cowden County would ever miss work to come and watch poor white trash in court just for fun. There was Wapner for that, at six o'clock.
Maybe she was blind. Maybe she couldn't see that the parents of those two little boys--both bludgeoned, one castrated, hog-tied with their own shoelaces, dumped in the Ten-Mile Bayou--didn't do much yelling or crying either?
Or was she flirting? It wouldn't be the first time. Every morning before court he combs his black hair, newly-cut to Thrasher! magazine chin-length, to a ripe gloss; it's a responsibility he feels keenly, to look his best. He'd known since the arraignment that it was he, and not Axon, that people came to see, that it was he who was going to get letters in jail from girls insisting that he couldn't have done it, that he was innocent and they knew it, they could tell just by looking at him. I wear black too! I love Metallica! I just know you'd like me!
He wanted to explain it to the woman, but it was too hard to explain. What it was like, at the age of fourteen, when he saw The Exorcist for the first time, and received the call. Take me! Come into me! Where had the Catholics been all his life? Hiding under his bed? He wanted her to know what had happened since then--that even though he'd grown to hate anyone who said they believed in God, at the moment of Revelation he made like any Christian. He gave in.
Aron's public defender doesn't want Adrien and Aron to sit next to each other during the trial in January. Guilt by association. "Look," the guy said, when he noticed Adrien's expression, "if I were any good, I'd be prosecuting you."
"Oh," Adrien said. "I thought you were prosecuting me.
The only normal thing about this whole mess is that Aron is in it, too. The two of them had always gone about their business with the tickling sense that someone was going to come down hard on them eventually, but they'd usually imagined it in terms of some state trooper catching them sniffing paint under the highway overpass, or the manager of the Flash Market wagging his finger at them after they'd been caught shoplifting two 40-ouncers of Olde English. We're fucked! We're fucked! But not this much. They'd always known each other, but didn't start hanging out until high school, and even then weren't entirely sure how they fell together. Before that all of Adrien's friendships were less like relationships than a series of unappetizing one-night stands. Like that pink-eyed albino boy in eighth grade whose mother was a Baptist missionary in Russia; or that squirmy runty auto mechanic's son who sold cocaine cut with cornstarch, and whose grandfather spent his days combing Galilee's vacant lots with a metal det ector. Or Sunny Mendota, his first girlfriend, in ninth grade. She was thirteen years old, called herself a "gangsta ho" even though all her friends were white, and had already dropped out of school. "On accident," she said--she'd broken her collarbone the year before horsing around on her cousin's dirt bike and missed so much school that she simply never bothered returning. She handled their breakup similarly; just stopped calling him back. After about a week of this Adrien went over to her dad's trailer to find out what in the hell was going on, and she told him she was going out with Shane Schwantes now; sorry. He couldn't believe it. Not possible. How could she do this to him? "Oh, for fuck's sake," she said. "Here's a quarter. Go call someone who cares?' By the time Adrien got out of the hospital for the Excedrin incident, Sunny and her dad had left Blue Island. He drove a truck; they never stayed put for long. Adrien can't remember a single conversation he and Sunny ever had, but he can remember how her collarbone would ache just before it rained, and how the insides of her legs smelled like bread. Sometimes he wonders if she has heard about what happened, wherever she is. Most of the time he doesn't care. But once in awhile, usually while he is being escorted late at night to the shower room, a bar of soap gripped in one hand, he cares a great deal.
During the hearings Mon sits with a painstaking lack of insolence, nearly disappearing into his own freaked humility. It's sad for Adrien to see him so transformed, in starched shirts and painfully blue jeans. Now he looks like a real boy, and he never really did before. It would have annoyed Adrien if he had; he didn't like boys, and would have hated Mon's tea-colored overlapping front tooth, and the oaty smell of him on hot days, even his "outboard motor" or "Arkansas waterfall" haircut. Right after the arrests Aron's attorney cut the mullet off himself, in three heartless snips, and now Mon's face looks like a peeled egg, exposed and shivering. In the normal world, it would never have been required of either of them to explain why they were friends. Back there, no one gave a fuck why people chose each other, especially people like them, in a place like this, on the side of a highway hissing with cars on their way somewhere else.
Mother, do you think they'll drop the bomb?
And why in hell, he wonders, is it called "Blue Island"? Is there a place where land is water or water land, and is this it, or isn't it? Whoever named it once upon a time must have known that Blue Island wasn't ever going to be a city or even a town but something nominal, liminal, an industrial median wheeling spokes of black asphalt seven miles out of Memphis, Tennessee, a national distribution hub and constellation of freight terminals where trucks stop to reload, regroup, and reverse. So provisional, in fact, that none of its maps look the same. Adrien feels certain that whoever reads about this case in the out-of-town papers pictures it wrong--quaint, squalid, with one main street and a string of meat 'n' three restaurants and old white people sitting on their porches drinking mint juleps and saying things like dang and I declare and cotton-pickin'--and this irritates him. No one out there could possibly understand what it was like in here. What it would be like to come back to it again and again, after hours of pure darkness, gliding up a gentle raise in the highway, veering down as the interstate unfurled on either side, vast and shimmering and lit up like a space station.
BLEND IN the rest of us smoke Maverick
Speed laws strictly enforced NO TOLERANCE
And, most importantly, the mobile homes: glum, prideful, exquisitely absurd. When did anyone ever hitch one to the back of a rig and go anywhere? We can leave anytime we want! Hell, no one who lived in Blue Island had ever planned on staying. "Either you're born there or you die there," Sunny Mendota once said, "or you never go there." Adrien never sits behind the wheel. He doesn't even have a driver's license. The thought of operating a car scares him as much as the idea of flying a plane, but he does passionately love being a passenger, speeding down the interstate into a divine oblivion only he knows quite so intimately. That such motion can be the same as stillness, as going nowhere, has to be a miracle.
At night, just before the South Robert exit, the parking-lot of the truck stop to the immediate left will always be packed side to side with trucks, and inside them drivers are sleeping, engines purring patiently. To the right sprawls the Galilee trailer park, crammed row upon row with motionless moveable homes. It doesn't make sense that they are one and the same, but try to understand. Vehicles that need to rest; yes. Mobile homes that never go anywhere.
The woman in the courtroom shook her head, and patted the back of his seat. "Boy, you have got problems." Her eyes smiled. "God bless you."
Look! Look! It's me! Believe me!
The words throbbed in his sleep like fresh sunburn. Sometimes Wade was saying them, voice coarse and furious. Sometimes Adrien, in the level, monochrome tone he used with reporters. Most of the time, however, the voice wasn't either of theirs, itchingly familiar but elusive all the same; desperate, vigorous, and not at all innocent. When Len woke up and swung his legs out of bed, he realized whose. Then the wet weight of its identity draped on him, like fatigue.
Daddy! It's me! Daddy, believe me!
Phil was dead. Len knew he should be thankful; after all, God had given him a generous body with more than enough room for grief. For weeks and weeks he waited to be filled up with it, but pain remained a mere stubborn drip at the back of his throat, a slow burn along his forehead, the calm way the body intuits bad weather that never comes. It was awful, obscene, to be so empty. He'd forgotten so much in three short months. When he discovered that Phil was missing that night in May. How it felt. When the bodies were found. How it felt. When the police arrested those two boys a month later. How it felt. Freddie remembered; that was all that mattered.
During the pre-trial hearings that fall, Len and Freddie always sat in the same place--on the right side of the courtroom, in the back row, next to the Pines. Len felt uneasy there, a little insecure, as if he were sipping a Jack and Coke at the bar of a Holiday Inn where he didn't have a room. No one on the left side of the aisle owned their own home, or had a real yard, or a pet with a collar. He had never felt different from people like this before; now he realized that he was, and not just because his son was murdered. This didn't have anything to do with money--he wasn't any better-off than any of them, really--so he wondered if the difference between them was more personal than circumstantial, a different strain of dispiritedness, perhaps, intimately irreversible as 0-negative. Like Wade and Angie. They believed in getting their due, and didn't ask for any credit. Stereo, three-foot speakers, wetbar, gun rack, fully-stocked home arsenal. How could they afford all that? Why did they deserve it? Len gripp ed his wife's hand, squeezed it to stay awake. Maybe, maybe.
Sitting in court was like working in a room full of machines: just static and interruption. To ease the monotony Len would pump his wife's fingers and stare at the women on the other side of the aisle. Most of them, he figured, lived in the Galilee Estates Trailer Park. He had seen their homes, from the outside. His eyes narrowed in, held, took. Jeanine Liane Beverley, Adrien's mother, 825 Cherry Tree Lane. A cream-colored trailer with a heavy white curtain drawn across the window facing the road; cement blocks for steps. A dark, dolorous woman, miserably attractive; drove a Dodge Aries; worked at the Waffle House on 1-55; smelled like breakfast, all the time. Yvonne Rene Elliott, Mon's mother, 561 Cabriolet Corner. A pockmarked green trailer with wooden lawn furniture out front. A bone-thin woman with too many teeth, face etched with keloid rivulets; voice like a palmful of dimes. Cleaned motel rooms; that person you presume picks up your used condoms and scrubs your splattered toilet and feels nothing as sh e does it. Glorye Aurora Hansen, Neely's mother, 58 Pike Street. A tiny powder-blue trailer with a screened-in sunporch built onto one side, filled with broken furniture and bags of moldering trash. A short, chubby, copper-haired woman with large rainbow-rimmed glasses; a merry laugh, merrier than most, when nothing much was funny. Didn't work; got by on welfare and food stamps and her butch sister Blue, who worked for FedEx.
He knew things about these women that he had not heard, read, or been told. He could picture, for instance, the inside of Glorye Hansen's trailer as vividly as if he'd once lived there himself--carpeted with damp rubbish, air laden with hot vanilla candle musk, a faint high note of sweet sticky resin. The shelves of her refrigerator-- okra pickles, pepperoncini, tartar sauce, hominy, Pet Milk, fruit cocktail. In his head she was always in the same place: on the living-room sofa, watching Time Trax and eating a potato chip sandwich washed down with a large can of pineapple juice. He always felt the closest to someone when he could imagine the food that someone felt close to. Before the murders he used to see these women every day in the Piggly Wiggly without ever seeing them, wheeling their squeaking carts down the aisles, fingering frayed coupons. They were no bigger than he was--and he had been trying to lose twenty or thirty pounds for years, to no avail--but they all looked morbidly obese to him now, even Yvonne Elliott, especially Yvonne Elliott, who couldn't have tipped the scale at more than a hundred pounds. He imagined her eating plain black-eyed peas every New Year's, for good luck.
After a hearing he and his wife would go home, change into sweatpants and t-shirts, and eat a silent, perfunctory dinner. Most nights Freddie just heated up canned tamales or macaroni and cheese in the microwave and mixed bowls of iceberg lettuce and tomatoes with mayonnaise. Water to drink. Coke, beloved Coke, for Len; sometimes two or three. He always left most of his food on his plate and had a hard time remembering the last time he'd actually eaten anything, from start to finish, until nothing was left over; Phil's death had killed his sense of taste as surely as if he'd been rendered blind or deaf. Freddie ate everything on her plate, as well as whatever Len couldn't finish. She didn't spend her hours in court fantasizing about what the mothers of the defendants liked to eat. He was sure of this, at least. Did they scream? did they obey? did Phil watch as Little Man got cut? At bedtime he sat on the edge of their bed and pulled off his clothes limb by limb as Freddie undressed interminably in the bathroo m. He wanted to tell her, to confess to someone, why he couldn't eat, what sick, disgusting drama was going on inside his stomach. That blind gnawing he felt all the time now, deep, intestinal, like dread. When he wasn't gazing at the women on the other side of the aisle he was staring at the defense table, at that boy, the black one, the one in the black, with the white, white face. Come in! the boy seemed to beg. Make something of me! It was the only call Len had ever received in his entire life, shooting through his spinal cord like lightning. After all, the two of them were related now, through newsprint. Wade made the best copy--his fervent sermonizing ensured that from the day the bodies were found--but he wasn't photogenic enough for the camera to keep caring about him, not nearly as much as Len, who always ironed his shirts and kept his short wavy hair neatly combed and mustache trimmed, and had his arm around his wife no matter how either of them were feeling about each other. Sometimes Wade and Angi e did not touch or look at each other all day. Sometimes they emitted the foul odor of argument. It was so easy to be ashamed of them, and ashamed, especially, of that. Of anyone, that boy would understand.
By the end of September Freddie still wasn't sleeping. Phil's pediatrician had prescribed her some pills, but she never took them unless Len told her to. She seemed to like it that way. She'd sit on the edge of the bed and stare at the bottle on her bedside table as if waiting for it to speak . "Freddie," Len would say, and she'd reach for it. "I heard you' she'd reply, placing a pill on her tongue.
One night, after taking her pill, Freddie took the alarm clock in her hands and began to wind it. This surprised Len; he hadn't seen her set the alarm in months, even long before the murders. She didn't work, and often slept late. Phil could fix his own breakfast and get himself ready for the school bus, if he had to. He was that kind of kid. That kind.
She turned off the bedside lamp and slid under the covers. "Pastor Bolle is meeting me early' she said, turning on her side to face him. "Why don't you come with me." She wasn't asking.
Len felt vaguely ill, as if it was the night before a dentist appointment. He didn't want to think about being in that place if he didn't have to be there. Waiting and waiting, and no guarantee of pain. He didn't answer.
Freddie fished for his hand under the covers. "Lennie," she said, "I want you to...to set your house in order. Get right with Him. Please. Her voice fluttered. "Please?'
He moved his hand into hers, like a dart. "Don't worry; Fred," he said. "I do think about it. You don't know that, but I do?'
He couldn't believe he'd just spoken. It was as if he'd never spoken before. Was that what his voice sounded like to others? What kinds of things did he used to think and say? Would he ever remember? Did it matter?
Freddie released a moist sigh. "Oh, Len?' she whispered, "I know."
He continued uncertainly, as if feeling his way into a dark room. "The way I figure?' he said, "it doesn't do us any good to hate them. It won't help. Their reparation is going to come eventually?'
"Yes, Len. Yes?'
Her agreement emboldened him alcoholically, with a sudden rush of raw confidence. "That's the reward of faith?' he went on. He didn't even know that he believed this. "That's what it means to put your trust in God?'
"Oh, yes. Oh, Len?'
"Maybe our task..." He paused, and absorbed her attentive silence. "Maybe our task?' he continued, "is forgiveness?'
Freddie gripped his fingers ardently. Relief crackled in his throat.
"Yes?" she breathed, "oh, yes?".
Right now, in this room, on the black ceiling, Len could see whatever his heart desired, and nothing got in the way--Adrien's round white face, Adrien's black eyes, Adrien's delicate bitten lips, Phil, little Phil, who cried when he discovered grass stains on his knee socks, who, during a break in Little League practice last year, ran to where Len was waiting on the sidelines and begged him, Daddy, Coach says I've got five minutes. Set your watch, will you? Set your watch! In the darkness their faces were exactly the same. It wasn't his fault! He couldn't help it!
"Oh, Freddie?" he gasped, "I want to. To forgive. So much. I'm ready."
Her fingers turned rigid, and for a moment he didn't even dare breathe. She sat up and looked down at him, hard. He could not see her face, and he was glad. The shame was unbearable, sodden as pissed-in pants. "Already?" Her voice was a strangled sob, a desperate, animal sound he'd only heard once before, from her. He released her hand. "Oh, no, Len. No. Already?"
You were loved so very much, And now you've gone away. Memories will keep you near. We miss you every day.
The subject's tympanic membranes are translucent with good landmarks bilaterally. His pupils are equal and reactive to light. Neck: supple. Lungs: clear. Abdomen: soft. Heart: no murmur.
Sometimes Adrien thinks that everything started in 1989, with Sunny Mendota, even though he never loved her; just wished he had. Like most thirteen-year-old girls she was small and cute, her calves hard and muscular, breasts firm pleasing handfuls. Unlike most thirteen-year-old girls she was a blue-eyed blonde in a Sugar Shack tank top, bruised Nikes and a Medieval Times knit cap, and a get-up this confounding was the best thing about her. She used words like "fly" and "herb" and claimed to know voodoo; she said she'd given a wayward boyfriend a virulent case of jock itch and the girl he cheated on her with a burst appendix, and once when her dad was pissing her off she took a photograph of him and stuck pins through his eyes, and the next morning he woke up and could barely see because his eyes were blood-red with burst vessels. Sunny boasted that she could predict the future with her "psychic necklace," a silver scorpion hanging from a leather strap that she'd hold above one palm and read the patterns it m ade as it swung, discerning numbers and letters and sometimes even words in the subtle dips and sways it took above her open hand. With it she'd predicted when her cousin Peep would lose her virginity. Fourteen. She'd even predicted the name of Adrien's mother's next boyfriend, who actually ended up lasting several months. Ted. Sunny had also forecast her own mother's car accident three years before, but not with the necklace. She'd dreamt about it--a rain-slick road not far from where they lived at the time, and a sharp turn, and a skid, and a guardrail. The next morning her father woke her up and told her that her mother had been killed, and how. "When my dad told me, all I could think of was how cool it was." Sunny told Adrien, "that I knew first."
At thirteen Sunny also knew everything there was to know about sex, but Adrien didn't believe she could be naturally gifted. Which male relative had taught her? The afternoon he lost his virginity to her--As Nasty As They Wanna Be was playing on her tape deck at the time, which explained why he got nauseous every time he heard me love you long time from some jock's open car window at the Arby's drive-through--Adrien struggled on top of Sunny for what seemed like forever, straining to stay hard as she giggled beneath him, teeth closed under her lips. Sunny liked him best when he was helpless; luckily that day he could oblige. In the months that followed, however, sex became easier for him, something he knew he could accomplish every time, and then he couldn't get enough of it, couldn't get enough of her. The metallic frost of her mouth, the way she never cried out when he bit her--this was the closest thing to kindness he had ever known.
From that very first time they had sex, Adrien knew that Sunny was eventually going to reject him. It was as clear as knowing, as a child, that one day he would grow hair under his arms and his voice would deepen and there was absolutely nothing he could do to prevent it. The day they broke up Sunny insisted that it was only because of Shane Schwantes, a hairy garbage-head he'd always loathed who never wore a shirt and had leprous purple backne and pepperoni nipples, but Adrien refused to accept it. Not Shane Schwantes, not him, of all people--how could this be, how could she do this, say this, be this? Suddenly, as he stood there looking at her on the front steps of her trailer, he realized something, something very important. Sunny had on a Harley-Davidson tank top and cutoffs, and her hair was in a high ponytail. Maybe it was because she didn't have that knit cap on. But at that moment, he saw who she truly was. Not a witch, and not a gangsta bitch. Not a girl at all. Well, between the legs, maybe. But re ally, to the bone, just a boy, a Led Zeppelin boy, one of those young persons he simply wasn't going to be, wayfaring their way through life in 7-Eleven parking lots buzzed on solvents and Slim Jims and Physical Graffiti. Last year, in eighth grade, when Adrien used to come to school wearing bellbottoms and love beads and telling anyone who'd listen that he'd been Jim Morrison in a past life, Sunny probably thought he was the only person her age more jacked than she was. All that time he'd been having sex with her, he hadn't been himself, and he hadn't been her, either; just a perverted joke with someone he didn't even know.
Afterwards he went home, locked himself in the bathroom, and swallowed a bottle of aspirin. His suicide note was short and sweet. Mama, Remember, I have Nine lives--I'll be Back. Four years later, he still couldn't take aspirin--it made his liver throb. The next year, after an agonizing search, he found his virginity again, and then gave it to Claudia, the way it should have been, and after that there was another girl, and another, and another, and Neely, too, of course, but sex with these last few girls never felt like much. Certainly not like it felt with Sunny, when for a brief time he'd believed he could escape the body he was born in, that he was not the person he thought he was. Now he knows for sure he is just that.
* Emily Shelton teaches at DePaul University. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the American Literary Review, Camera Obscura, and Parnassus. This piece is an excerpt from her "true-crime" novel, Memphis.