STELLA'S LITERARY BISTRO

An Online Literary Journal

   

Sara Finnerty is from Queens, NY and for the time being lives on the northeastern tip of Los Angeles. She has a B.A. from NYU and an M.F.A. from CalArts. She is working on her second novel.


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Ordinary Boys

 

 

by Sara Finnerty

                                                      

                

I know I’ll see Kiko on the street before I actually see him. There will be connect-the-dot arrows hovering in the air, transparent, so they don’t interfere with people walking. Sometimes I think the dots are green, but they could be red. If I look at the connect-the-dots in a way that means I don’t care if I see them or not, they smudge into lines and join together to show me where Kiko is. An arrow will curve around the corner, or into the passenger seat of a car, or point down one block, over two, into the back of a deli where Kiko will be getting an Italian ice from the cooler. The dots show me other people too but these days I don’t pay attention to much besides Kiko.

I ask for Kiko’s number and call him because I think he is sexy and all these dots and arrows must mean he’s my soul mate. They must. I eat an apple while I talk to him on the phone to give the impression that I am both nonchalant and healthy.

We see each other almost every night during that summer I turn fourteen. First we walk and walk all night, smoking cigarettes and eventually we get to lying around on the grass in my backyard and floating. I like to swoosh my hand over the cool grass underneath him, cool even though his body has just been pressing against it. When I float, he runs his hands not over the grass but my feet, my calves, the backs of my knees, my back, my neck. It feels good to be touched. Better than flying.

Back on the grass, we look at the big black evergreens until they turn to tree shaped holes in the sky. I wonder if the backyard trees have always been holes. I trace a hole with my finger and one eye closed. “Kiko,” I say, “who ripped the sky out?” and I can still almost hear the tears through the air.

He kisses my neck until I am mush enough to kiss back. I say I can’t do all this kissing and rubbing because I’ll fall for you. When I do fall in love with him, he says girls are weak because they always have to start feeling things. He doesn’t need to float and he doesn’t need to see holes in the sky.

It gets to be that when I know he is around a corner, I ignore the arrows. I turn around and walk the other way.

 

The next summer, Nate finds me. Nate was born in Story, Oregon and if you walk a straight line through the country from his coast to mine, you’d end up in Story, NY, where I was born. While I remain in my Story, he moves from his to Wyoming, Utah, Texas, Canada and Wyoming again, which is when I meet him online when we are fifteen. This is my first summer with a computer, which my parents put on a tiny wooden desk in the hallway between the bathroom and the kitchen. I spend my nights in chatrooms, listening to my Mom’s staticy records, which transport me to a parallel lonely place that divides me up and makes me feel not so lonely. 

Nate’s screen name is Nothing, and when we get to typing he says:

            Nothing: I know you

            SallyHere: Oh yeah? How’s that.

            Nothing: I know what’s in your freezer.

           SallyHere: Right. What’s in my freezer then?

           Nothing: Only four things. Frozen chicken, Turkey Hill Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream, chocolate frozen popsicle sticks and cookies. You put the cookies in there, because you like them frozen.

 

           I shove the chair back and get down on my knees, thinking he can see me through this new, strange computer. I crawl over to the freezer and press my back against the cabinets and open the freezer drawer with my foot. There they are- all four items and nothing more. I poke my head over the kitchen counter and look out through the open window, sure that he is a sniper in a tree across the street, aiming at me with one hand and typing on a computer leaning against a branch with the other.

We eventually get to talking on the phone. Every time he calls, in these days before Caller ID, I pick up the phone and say, “Hey Nate,” because the phone ring sounds like him. We like to play “Psychic Diary,” a game where we open up our journals, pick a date and say, “OK, what happened to me on June 12th, 1992?” We close our eyes and see each other’s day. Every time he sees the day written out in my journal, I squeal and collapse on my bed. When I see his past, I never completely believe that I have gotten it right.

Then we try the future.

“Sal, what will happen tomorrow?”

“You’ll meet a girl.” I say. “With long legs and black hair down to her butt. I’ll be jealous.”

He does and I am. Then his mom takes him driving all over the country to follow God. He sends postcards from everywhere and I am terrified he will show up at my door. What do you say face to face to someone who can read your mind? But he never does.

Two years later, when I am seventeen, the phone rings and the muscles in my arms and the back of my neck hear in the ring that it is him so I pick up and say, “Hey Nate.”

I hear his laughing. “Sally. We still got it. They don’t believe me.” Nate is in a mental institution. There are little cars following him around, tiny little cars that sometimes crash against his feet. He thinks his mom is driving the cars and he was God all along.

I’m not sure how wrong or right he is.

  

I meet Billy Doon on my Math class desk and we fall in love inside of it. One day I notice “Math Suckssss” written on the top left corner of the desk in blue ink. The s’s trail down the top of the desk into spirals. I write underneath the final spiral, “I hate math tooooo,” each O bigger than the last. The next day, I scan the desk even before I sit down, and there it is, inside my last, largest O: “so let’s make it interesting.” When we fill up the top of the desk with our pen and pencil notes, we start leaving pieces of paper in the desk, then letters. His letters are sweet, playful and a little flirtatious and make Math my favorite time of day. 

I figure out, through sly detective work, that Desk Boy is Billy Doon, a senior, six foot something with a bald head that sticks up over everyone else’s in the hallways of our high school. He is that rough brand of bad boy that you think might end up in jail, so bad that you could never just go up and talk to him. I can’t believe my luck. He gives me drawings when we pass each other in the hallways. They are real bad boy pictures with blood, guns and graffiti but they are for me. And even though we can just hand them to each other, we keep leaving the letters in our math desk.

After school one day, he comes up to me, baseball hat pulled down low over his eyes, wet and pink like he’s been crying. “I thought you were different. I heard what you said about me. Everyone thinks I’m a fuck up but I thought- not you, not you.” It is that not you that I will remember the most.

I try to explain that I don’t know what he’s talking about and it is more words than I’ve ever said to him.

“I thought it would be different with you, Sal. Something weird happens whenever you’re around. I thought you knew me. There’s something with us.” He says ‘us’ like its really important.

“I do know you,” I say even though I don’t know him at all except for the letters and that he’s so tall.

“Tell me something you know.” He looks at me with those blue eyes that make me want to choke. Billy is standing so close and I feel like I’m getting sucked into his eyes and forgetting that there is any sort of gravel beneath my feet.

            “Blue. The door.”
            “What door?” He says all gentle and steps closer.

“To your room.” When I bend my neck back to look up at him, the brim of his hat elongates over my head and widens over the both of us. Inside his hat there is nothing but his face and mine. His eyes move down closer to me and this makes me feel like I’m not me anymore. I am this vessel he is looking at, expecting to know things about him, and then I do.

“You want to be more violent.”  

When I feel his fingers on my neck, I know he is going to kiss me and this makes me want to pee myself. I concentrate on not doing so and one last thing comes out of my mouth:

“Like your father.”

His face gets hard and not relaxed and kissy like it was.

He steps away. “I should leave you alone.”

The brim of his hat retracts. Kids are moving around my periphery. There are sounds and colors all around us now.

“Listen, I’m shit, I’m done for. I don’t want the guilt of fucking you up. Which I will.” And he leaves and won’t talk to me after that except for little nods and little smiles and then he graduates. Once he is gone, I think I see him in the halls or on street corners or in passing cars. His blue eyes and the brim of his hat become what I think about when I feel too empty because he isn’t there anymore.

I really do see him on the street, years later. I cross the street to hug him but he steps back, his body and face hard just like that day and he doesn’t say a word. I wonder if it had all been in my head, if I’d just imagined everything.

 

Joey works repairing computers and says college isn’t for him. He is good at what he does, he says, because the computers like him. You have to care about them like a person, not curse and hit them. They tell him what’s wrong and he fixes them.

            One night, we are parked by a river and making out. He bunches my clothes and skin between his fingers and wiggles his tongue in my mouth. Then he pulls away and looks down at me, worried. He says, “I got a bad feeling Sal, we’re gonna go.” I roll my eyes. I am nineteen and I figure I am too old for psychic nonsense. He is even older. He should know better.

The next day we see on the television that a couple was shot dead in that parking lot. It wasn’t us, and it wasn’t me who had the bad feeling. It was all him. I didn’t feel anything at all.

I go out without him one night and meet another boy. I don’t like this other boy, but at the time I think the only way to feel free is to make my body free to anyone who wants it.

I call Joey before I go to sleep and the first thing he says is, “You cheated on me. I just know it.” And I lie. I lie and lie to keep him because he wants me. I lie and my body is contorting, it is constricting. That night I have nightmares. He is sucking the air from my body. I am deflating.

 After him, I don’t know how but I want things to be right. I want to feel however I did before there were ever boys.

 

I daydream that Derek is my childhood neighbor, and that we are friends that develop over the years into lovers because there is no better kind of love. Our families know each other and in my fantasies I see his hair, thick and dry. I imagine him as a child, playing stickball in the street as I sit on my balcony pretending to play with my headless Barbie. He looks up while he is at bat and watches me watching him. Then I am older and he is in my bedroom and we are best friends now and know everything about each other and I lose my virginity to him and it is perfect and he will never leave me.

One night, in the real world, Derek asks me to dance at a club. I look into the face of my thick haired fantasy standing in front of me and he is my neighbor, but his name isn’t Derek, it’s Luke. He lives on top of me- we have both just moved into a giant apartment complex miles and miles from the club. His family is from my mother’s small coastal Alabama village and he is my fourth or fifth cousin, by marriage. He has also dreamt of me, he says, and that is why he asked me to dance. He says he has never had a dream come true before.

I feel that this must be the end. I have found my dream boy. He has structured cheekbones and a physical stature that makes me giddy. While at work, I allow myself a few minutes at my desk every hour to close my eyes and daydream of him only now it is all real. This time he isn’t just a fantasy. I feel like clapping my hands all the time.

We last for the duration of the Winter Olympics.

Friends ask, “What happened?”

“There must’ve not been enough magic.” I am sarcastic about this, but I am right. I have often mistaken one kind of magic for another.

 

 

I am tired. I am tired of human skin and wanting bodies I can’t have. I find Jin online for phone sex. He reads my mind word for word and this makes me come over and over. It has never been easier.

I want him to tell me to lie across the bed, my head hanging off the edge.

Then he says, “I have your head hanging off the edge of the bed…”

Flip me over ...

“Then I flip you over…”

And I forget the whole world because the whole world is you.

“And you forget the whole world because I am everything there is.”

Every thought that flitters through my head comes out of his mouth while I move my fingers against myself.

He is wonderful, for weeks. But soon Jin stops calling.

            I assume he found a real girlfriend.

 

I fantasize about a Christopher because I like the name. I say it over and over to myself. I think, for the last few weeks it has been Christopher. Christopher.

Then I meet him at a bar and he says, “I’ve been dreaming about you.” I take this as a horribly cheesy line. And even if it were true, I’ve learned my lesson. Dreams that come true don’t end up meaning anything, not really. I pick up my drink to walk away.

            He hooks me in by asking if I think football is more egalitarian and baseball more capitalistic.

I say, hesitating between walking away and standing there,  “Baseball has no time constraints. There’s always hope and much more room for miracles.” I can see now that this is the moment he decides to take me. He imagines I am really talking about him. He thinks I can give him a miracle.

 I don’t pause at work or in bed to daydream about Christopher. I think it is about time to grow up and that there is no such thing as fairytales. I only want for it to work and try to convince myself I am not making a mistake staying with him. But he knows when to reassure me and just the right words to say. It seems he can understand any idea, feeling or thought I have. This feeling of being known can lead you to overlook many things. I later learn that there are other girls on the side and once I know, I can see, see all the things I hadn’t seen before. Everything behind me is a tangled mess I can’t make sense of. But I can see that it is there.

He shows up months later down on a knee with a wedding ring, which is when I finally understand. You don’t marry someone just because they ask, and there are things you can’t ever forget. He says, “But no one understands me the way you do and no one will ever get you the way I do.” I can see that even if it’s just a line, a lie, or a manipulation, it’s still a little bit true.

This is when I know that with these boys there have been dreams coming true, dots in the air, fantasies that show up in real life, mind reading and floating off the ground. There has been magic in my life. But not the real kind.

 

For two years, I live in a little, slanted one room apartment. I can only put bookcases against one wall, because they would fall otherwise. I cook in the tiny kitchen and dance in my underwear because no one can see me. Sometimes I think of a person’s face, and then they call, or I hear their voice in my head and see them minutes later, and these things make me feel like I am doing something right. They are not messages for me to interpret. They don’t mean anything in particular. They are connect the dot arrows pointing me along.

            One night in my little apartment I am masturbating and I see a nose. At the appearance of the nose, I think, “Can you love someone with this nose?” And right away I answer: Yes. For a second, I see the rest of the face that the nose is attached to.

It has been so long I don’t recognize it for what it is until the next night. My friends make me go to a bar, though I insist you can only meet cheating liars at bars but they unzip my sweater and tell me, “Stick your boobs out. You’re beautiful.”

             And there he is, standing at the bar. The man with the nose. I am reluctant to say or do anything. I can just let a dream be a dream. But I tap him on the shoulder and say hello, I’m Sally. He reaches his hand out and says, “Jake” with a big smile. We talk until the bar closes, and when it’s time to go, I already have my number written on a piece of paper, hidden in my hand.

He is leaving with his friends and I am leaving with mine. “So, Sally, can I call you?”

 I produce the piece of paper and when he takes it from my hand, his fingers rest against mine for longer than what is normal. This means he likes me. He calls the next day.

            On our first date we eat sandwiches and go for a walk through a street fair. He asks, “Why me? Why did you come up to me at the bar?”

I watch a group of kids throw darts at balloons. I could lie. Or he could think I’m crazy.

            “I had a dream about you the night before.”

            He laughs and doesn’t know whether to believe me.

            Later we are sitting at a bar having a drink and I get up to go to the bathroom. Before I stand all the way up I kiss him and I feel like I am falling though the floor. His hands on my waist steady my body but not the whooshing air in my lungs.

            For three weeks I tell myself we are only sleeping together. By the fourth week he has moved in. I feel like I have always known him, all of this time.

 

There is no floating above grass. Jake can read my face but not my thoughts. Sometimes I don’t understand him at all, and he doesn’t know the right configuration of words to say that will open his mind to mine. But he makes up stories for me when I can’t sleep, and lowers the TV or radio when I say something, and sometimes while he drives I look out the window and we are both quiet in our thoughts.  Four years appear and disappear like puffs of smoke but then we are breathing the same air for too long and it makes me hate him for the pimple on his neck so I leave. I tell him I need to think.

I am gone for two weeks. When I come back, he has cleaned the apartment. He has done the laundry. He has cooked dinner. He has put my mail into a pile. He is happy to see me. He is not scared that I will leave for good.

He says, “You dreamed about me and then came up to me at that bar. You are exactly like an angel for me.” I try to explain that dreams coming true don’t mean anything. But he shrugs and says there is no way to know, is there?

We sit on the couch and I bury my cold toes under his butt. I show him the sand dollars I found on the beach while I was gone, and tell him that I wished he were there when I picked them off the sand.

This is magic, I think. When two people want each other every day.

But, then, there is still me, myself, who still sees connect the dots in the air and sometimes, when I am walking alone, the whole world holds still to let leaves crackle and bounce across the street.

   

    Spring 2010

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