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issue 49: July - August 2005 

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ahhhh!!!!Lewis and Clark, Bryce and Tony
Cyan James

Maybe it's the Bible, maybe it's the lack
Maybe it's the music, maybe it's the crack.

The song drummed on.

Maybe it's the end, but I know one thing.
If it were up to me, I'd take away the guns
.

Bryce switched it off.
"I don’t think it’s the guns."
"Me either." Tony stared at the ceiling.
"I think it’s us. We’re the problem."
"And we should?"
"Don’t get like that on me, Tony."
"Like what?"
"You know like what."

Bryce thought of large vats of acid that would eat his body away in seconds, or of a fancy knife slicing his skin open and letting out stinging blood, enough to fill a bathtub, filling it, sloshing, rolling down the drain.

"It’s us for sure. We should die."
"So you want us to die?"
"It’s not that bad."
"Says who?"
"I want you to die."
"You’re funny, Bryce."
"You wish."

Tony left and slammed the door on the way out. Sick Bryce. Last week he made the Bettmans’ litter of kittens disappear. He said he poked their eyes and put them under the porch. The kittens, not the eyes. "They’ll stink," said Tony. "Duh," said Bryce. Tony didn’t want to look when he left, he didn’t want to think about it at all so he made extra loud noises jumping down the stairs.

At the bottom he bumped into Bryce’s sister Maggie, who had scraggly hair and smelt like goldfish. Big shiny staring eyes. She drooled.
"Get out of here," said Tony.
"Fag," said Maggie.
"You don’t know what that means."
"I know your dad’s one."
"You’re only five. You don’t know anything."

Tony thought about pushing her. He could watch her stupid teeth hit the pavement and maybe one would fall out. She’d scream then. Worse than cats. He thought about pulling her hair too, but he didn’t want to touch it. It was limp, like earthworms. Full of dirt. Tony kicked a rock at her feet and left before Maggie could say anything.
"Fag. Faggoty faggoty fag," she yelled at his back.
My back has no ears, he said to himself.
Tony sat at home alone.

Bryce was by himself too, upstairs in his bedroom scribbling in his book.

Slow soft comes the pain
Make it rain, make it rain
Blood and all the things
That will never be found
People screaming underground

He thought about crumpling the paper up afterwards. He thought about making a fingerprint on it with his own blood (or maybe he could use Maggie’s? But that wouldn’t be fair.) The paper would land on the floor all crumpled up like socks worn too many times. Socks with holes.

Bryce lay on the bed to count bumps in the ceiling.

Tony came over the next day. It was wet outside so they couldn’t play at the baseball diamond.
‘Who cares," said Bryce.
"Well, what should we do then, smartass," said Tony.

Bryce threw the newspaper at Maggie. It hit her and knocked off her squashed purple hat. Standing in the corner she turned slowly and stared at them with one hand on her hip and one held in the air. She looked glazed.

"Maggie’s being a mannequin," said Bryce.
"Mannequin Maggie," said Tony. "Can we look up your skirt?"
Bryce glared at Tony. "She’s my sister!"
"So?"
"You wouldn’t know. You don’t have one."
"Who needs one," said Tony.
"Don’t talk to her like that," said Bryce.
"Fine," said Tony
"Fine."

Maggie kept staring into the room; she stared across the purple hat on the floor and through all the clothes bundled on her and all the freckles like bugs splattered on a windshield on her big nose.

"You look like a cormorant," said Bryce.
"Do not. What’s that?" said Maggie.
"It’s a bird." Tony lay flat on the floor and banged his hand against the tiles. "I saw it on TV."

"You know what I saw on TV," said Bryce. "I saw a man on fire. He was just sitting there burning. He’d shaved his head."
"Why?"
"So his hair wouldn’t smell? I don’t know, dumbass."
"No, why’d he burn himself?"
"I don’t know. I heard something about doing it for peace."
"He could have got peace by not burning himself."
"You don’t know anything, Tony."

Bryce got up to get a drink out of the tap in the kitchen. Maggie blinked. The rain was splatting against the panes and everything stunk of rot mold. "Fag," whispered Tony to himself. Maggie slowly walked across the floor to him, waving her hips. For once she wasn’t drooling.

"Maggie, come here," said Tony. She banged herself down onto the floor and touched her big nose to his chin. "Maggie, don’t," Tony said. She sat in his lap to play with his hair with her sticky fingers. Tony made embarrassed noises to himself but sat very still. He watched the veins moving inside Maggie’s pale white belly, all broken up by the dug-in belly button. Tony heard Bryce head to the bathroom to run more water and spy on the neighbor kids out the window.

Tony held his breath like he saw in movies and slowly rocked Maggie onto the floor on her side. She lay looking at him, docile as a basset hound puppy with too many skin folds.

"Maggie," his voice felt thick and caught on the ridges in his throat. Slow, very slow, he reached out a finger to touch the belly button, to touch actually the edge closest to him that shone in the window light pale pink, and then when he felt the softness and saw Maggie’s eyes closing, and a little bubble swirling out her mouth, he leaned closer and smelt the milk-smell and peanut butter and sourness of her stomach and touched it with the very tip of his tongue.

Bryce’s older sister, Maryl, caught them like that when she walked in on bare feet, drying her toenails.

"What are you doing?"
"Nothing," said Tony even though he had jumped and banged the floor when she came in.
Nothing, nothing. He edged away and pretended to examine a scurf of old skin on his bare foot.
"Nothing," said Maggie, dreamy.
"That did not look like nothing to me, Tony Spencer Abrams. Why were you doing that?"
"I didn’t mean anything by it."
"Yeah, you mean nothing, and I bet you watch your sick dad and his ordered-in girls too!"
"Fag," whispered Tony.
"Get out now, Tony" Maryl said, the words snipped short.
"Yeah, get out now." Bryce was watching from the open doorway. Tony hadn’t heard the toilet flushing.
Get out, get out get out get out get out.
"Get out" said Maggie to herself. She touched her belly button. "Get out."

Tony left his pocketknife behind and two dimes on the floor where they fell out of his pocket. "I’m leaving," he said with his chin up. "I don’t need you." Bryce tried to trip him on the way out. After he missed he shoved Tony down the steps kittens with no eyes and slammed the screen door.

Tony sat in the cracked leather couch at home and watched the Discovery channel. Something ate something else with a lot of blood and exposed ribs. Then a special on pollution came on and factory stacks cried and vomited great mounds of gray smoke and ashes and slick black birds were shown caught in plastic pop-can rings. Tony fell asleep on the couch without having Cheez Whiz with crackers and pepperoni for dinner like usual. It stopped raining.

Maggie kicked her heels against the floor and later spilled her glass of juice. Maryl made her clean it up but she left a ring of stickiness behind.

Bryce sat in his room. Fag fucker, he wrote. They were the worst words he knew. But after looking at it he couldn’t stand it and crumpled the paper and threw it into a corner. Then he went downstairs for a match, avoiding Maryl, came back upstairs over the creaking steps and burned the paper crumple in the trash can.

He tried again:

I felt alone
I ruined the earth
Everyone’s stupid
I wish I had no birth

Outside he heard Maryl leave in the big Jeep, ripping chunks of gravel out of the yard. She came back in two long hours with scratches in her toenail polish and a big smile. And a big Winchester held stiff in front of her.

"Here, I just got it," she said, trying to hand it to Bryce, but before he could touch it she slapped it away again. "It’s mine. Bobby got it for me." She cradled the gun up in her arms and marched through the slamming screen door to the house next door.

She woke Tony up, so he looked stupid when he opened the door. Stupid and alone in the big hot house with nothing to do and nowhere to be.
"Get over here," Maryl said. "I said get over here."
She pinched the fat on the upper side of his arm with two fingers and with the other hand dangled the gun.
"Don’t make me use this."
She dragged Tony across the yard with the crunch of dry summer grass underfoot, up the steps over the kittens through the screen into the middle of the floor. Maggie was gone.

Maryl made Bryce find her and bring her into the room. She put the gun in a bare corner and made them stare at it. "That’s mine," she said. "For raccoons and robbers and kids like you. So watch out." Then she made them stand in a line and repeat:

I will not touch Maryl’s gun
I will not touch Maryl’s gun
I will not touch Maryl’s gun

"I’ll kill you for sure if you touch it, and I might if you don’t," she said. "So watch out."

As soon as she turned to go to her room with a girl magazine and a pack of gum, Bryce snuck out a slow quick finger and brushed the slippery stock.
"It tingles," he said.

Tony was afraid to try. Maggie lost interest.

The boys went outside with Kudos bars that were melting. They sat on the steps, even though Tony didn’t like the steps anymore, but he knew Bryce would laugh at him for saying so, and he knew Bryce was still heaving with the excitement of the gun.

Five kittens came tumbling around the side of the house.

"Get them!"said Bryce.
"I thought you killed them."
"No, I only said I did."
"Liar."
"Fag."
"Liar."
They started pushing but it was too hot. Tony felt cheated.

"Hey," said Bryce, "we could shoot them."
"Let’s not."
"Pussy!" He laughed. "Pussy cat!"
"I just don’t want to."

"I’m getting the gun," said Bryce making a huge show of stretching and drawing himself up, full of importance. The screen door slammed. The kittens started playing under the porch making mewls and swatting at flies. Tony wished for a big red popsicle, but it would melt too fast anyway. He heard some screaming and yelps from inside and someone getting hit. He got up slow and poked his head inside the door. Maggie was smacking the floor with her sticky fingers, and dirt and tears were sliding down her face.

"I told you not to touch it!" Maryl towered over Maggie. Yelling. All her hair tousled by heat.
The gun had slipped down the wall and lay flat like a sunning lizard.
"Shut up Maggie. That’s enough Maggie."
Bryce sat on the couch reading a comic book and picking his nose. "Hey let’s go man," he said when he saw Tony. "Let’s get out this dump."
"You can’t," said Maryl. "I’m going out. You have to stay and watch Maggie."
"Do not."
"Do too."
"Do not."
"Dad put me in charge. So there."
Bryce rolled his eyes. "Geez Maryl you sound like Mrs. Zakowsky at school."
Tony laughed. Mrs. Zakowsky was round and fat with a little nose and bright red dyed hair.

Maryl was ignoring them now. She carried the gun into her room with her and came out ten minutes later wearing short cut-offs and her hair in a braid. She took Bryce’s comic book out to the steps to wait for Bobby. Bryce thought he smelled his mom’s cheap old perfume on her. She had hairs stuck to the sides of her face. Maggie played with spoons in the kitchen on the chipped tile floor.

Bryce and Tony watched through the screen door when Bobby pulled up on his battered Honda motorbike.
"Hey baby," he said to Maryl. She smiled at him. She got off the porch and walked over sassier than Maggie, sitting down close behind Bobby and whispering something in his ear the boys couldn’t hear. Then she saw them watching and yelled for them to watch the house and she’d bring hamburgers from Hardees when she got back. Bobby waited with a bored look on his face until he could rev and slide out of the yard on the gravel drive.
"The fag," said Bryce. "He makes me want to puke." Tony stared at the dirt in between his toes.

Bryce collected rocks to throw at the kittens. Tony went inside to look at the fridge. There was leftover chicken in the fridge covered by foil, cold and glistening like it was lying in a mausoleum. On a slab. His stomach felt weird.

Bryce found him in the bathroom a few minutes later lying in the coolest part of the house, the while porcelain tub. He was looking at the green stuff growing on the shower curtain.
"What are you doing?"
"I might wash my feet off," said Tony. "They’re kind of black."
"Yeah, they are. Hey, guess what?"
"What?"
"I got the gun."
Bryce held it up, dull-looking and mute in the bathroom gloom. He sat on the toilet seat and pointed the gun at the mirror. "Bang, bang."
"Is that loaded?" said Tony.
"No. Course not."
"Can we load it?"
"We don’t have any shells, dumbass."
"But I bet Maryl left them in her room."
"Yeah."

They both went into her room. There were clothes everywhere and ripped-out pictures of stars stuck to the walls and a box of crackers on one pillow. Hair barrettes and scattered unmatched shoes and the porcelain dog with a crack in its neck. "I don’t know where she would keep them," said Bryce. "How about in here?" He dug through her top drawers and Tony came to help, and the bureau rocked on its three whole legs. They came across the drawer of socks rumpled together like sleeping animals in a litter, then the underwear drawer, everything lacy and ripped and strange, with a signed photograph kept in the bottom and a notebook in pink marked "Diary" but the writing was too cramped to read. It had a square packet hidden in it that Tony held up.
"Tro-jan," he sounded out. "What’s this? Gum?"
"You don’t know anything," said Bryce and he threw the package back in.
They found the shells in the third drawer mixed in with a bunch of junk. There were five of them glinting in Bryce’s palm.

They went back to the bathroom to poke the shells into the gun. "Like this," said Bryce, and Tony nodded wise, and carefully slid the shell home. He sighted down the barrel at the mirror but the gun was heavy and he handed it to Bryce. He breathed through his mouth and wiped his dirty feet against the rug. He could see his handprints evaporating off the stock.

"We could be robbers," said Bryce. "We could rob Mrs. Zakowsky and take her stupid dog and all her jewelry." Mrs. Zakowsky did wear a lot of jewelry, Tony thought, mostly big earrings that pulled her ears down and jangled. How could she stand the noise so close to her ears.
"No," he said. "I’m tired. It’s too hot."
"We could practice" said Bryce. "We could set up tin cans. There’s five kittens."
"No," said Tony, quick, "we’d miss them."
But then he wanted the gun in his hands again and the heavy importance of it, the drag of it on his arms making his fingers tingle.
"Give it here," he said.
"No," said Bryce, but he didn’t say it very loud.
Tony tried to wrap his hands around the part of the barrel closest to Bryce. He propped his feet against the bottom of the toilet and pulled; and Bryce, sitting on top of the toilet again, propped against the bathtub and pulled back.
At first they were just playing but they started to play harder and pull harder and both panted.
"Give it here."
"No, you give it up. It’s my house. It’s my sister’s gun."
"I’m the guest."
"You’re the pussy."

When the gun went off it startled both of them into letting go. The sound rocked around in the bathroom, and they both thought they must be dead, but they could see the plaster drifting down from the ceiling. Tony lay back down in the tub without looking at Bryce.

"Stupid," said Bryce. "You could have shot Maggie." He was glaring. "You could have shot my sister."
"She’s not upstairs" said Tony.
"Are you sure?" said Bryce.
"Yeah," said Tony. He could see Maggie standing in the doorway looking at both of them. Bryce followed Tony’s eyes.
"Go away," he said. Maggie started whining softly to herself but turned around and left. They saw her though the bathroom curtains; she walked outside and grabbed the kitten closest to her. Slow.

"That’s cool," said Tony looking up at the dark hole in the ceiling.
"Have you ever thought about shooting yourself?" asked Bryce.
"No. Have you?"
"There’s other ways you could die," said Bryce.
"Like how."
"Like sometpimes I hear about this doctor on TV, he helps people die with gas or poison, and it says they want to, and he helps them, but he gets in trouble.”
"Do you think about dying, Bryce?"
"Yeah. A lot."
"Wouldn’t you go to hell?"
"I don’t think there’s a hell. Bobby says there’s no heaven either." Bryce’s eyes looked like the darkness under the porch.
"I don’t think there’s anything," he said.

They were quiet until Tony asked, "How would you do it?"
"Maybe with a knife," said Bryce. It reminded him of a rhyme. Knife, knife, end all strife.
"Maybe with a razor blade, or I could hang myself in the tree outside in the yard or I could jump off the Curland Bridge. They say it’s deep there. I don’t know how to swim."
"I don’t either," said Tony.
"You could do it with me," said Bryce.

Tony was staring at his ugly toes. "I think I’m going to wash my feet after all," he told Bryce. He started playing with the knobs and the water coughed out, cold at first with flakes of reddish rust. Tony got out before the water touched him to take his clothes off, everything but his underwear, and he could see his body thin like a white mushroom in the dark. His eyes looked like raisins. He got back in the water when it was half-way full. He let the water run over his toes. It was just the right temperature for once.

Bryce poked around in the bathroom cupboard behind the swinging mirror. Tony heard clinking noises.
"Here," said Bryce, when he came back, and he showed Tony the handful of razor blades left from when his dad was still around. He lined them up, ten, along the edge of the tub. He picked one up and sat back on the toilet with it and rubbed it in slow soft motions against a callus on his finger. He stared at Tony.

"I think we should try it."
"Try what?" asked Tony.
"Try dying."

Tony stared back at Bryce.
"Are you serious?"
"Yeah."

Tony wiggled his toes in the water. They were getting clean but the water was getting cold. He felt wrinkles twisting up under his skin. He thought of the house next door; his mom hardly ever came home and the house sat creepy like an eye socket. He didn’t like Maryl or Maggie or his classmates or Mrs. Zakowsky or even Bryce, really. He thought of how some people drowned kittens they didn’t want.

"The world will be better," said Bryce. "Without us. We do everything wrong."
"You do everything wrong," said Tony. "You probably couldn’t even help me die right."
"I could," said Bryce. "You do everything wrong too. You probably couldn’t die right."
"It doesn’t matter how you die," said Tony.
"You do or you don’t," said Bryce. "It’s simple."
"Ok. How do we do it?"
"You should go first," said Bryce.
"No, you should."
"No, dumbass, I know more. I’ll die after you. You go first."
"I don’t care," said Tony, staring at the eye-hole in the ceiling.
"Fine then."
"Fine."
"You have to stretch your wrist out," said Bryce. "Like this."

Tony watched the blue vein in his wrist lying curved like a worm. His toes would become worms in the dirt, his toes would get dirty again, and he decided he might even like it better like that.

"Will you come to my funeral Bryce?"
"No, stupid. I’ll be dead."
"But will you feel sad?"
"I won’t feel anything."
"But will someone feel sad?"
"Everyone will," said Bryce.
"Then do it," said Tony and he closed his eyes tight but then he opened them again at the last minute. He didn’t feel hardly anything at first. The razor went quick and only caught in his skin once, but Bryce kept it moving, two cuts for each wrist. Everything looked red all of a sudden. Red drops in the water, red floods, red and thick like old KoolAid, like Jell-O. It stung his nose, he felt dizzy and hot and cold at the same time and like metal was between his teeth and things were dripping and crawling down his arms into his fingernails.

"Like this Bryce?" he asked.
"Yeah."

All the water was red, it was going to get into his eyes, his nose, into his ears. It felt like the blood was rising up inside him too, crawling up his throat to meet the rest. "Bryce," he said; it sounded like a gurgle, "Bryce." He started to splash and grab at things and he might have urinated but he couldn’t tell, everything smelled raw and salty like the Atlantic on storm days; there were waves and the blood and water pooled and flowed inside him in tides and started to slosh over the sides. He saw Bryce standing over him, looking, and his eyes were big dark. "Help," said Tony, and he reached his arms out, they felt weak and limp. Bryce pushed them back in, he pushed down on Tony’s forehead and his shoulders and everything sounded funny underwater. Blood got in his eyes and stung. He kicked his legs, and he couldn’t tell how long everything had taken, but it seemed like it was getting darker. He heard a hum in the background.

The gravel was spitting out in the yard again, flickering like fireflies in the Honda headlight. Bryce heard his sister laughing and saw Bobby rubbing Maryl’s shirt when he looked out. Blood stuck to Bryce’s fingers. He painted "fag" in crooked letters on the flowered wallpaper. He sprawled in the corner between the toilet and the wall and let his head fall against the wall. The blades were scattered around the bathroom and Bryce’s shirt and shorts were wet from blood and water. He couldn’t tell what Tony was doing.

Maryl’s heels skittered on the steps. A kitten yowled when she swiped it out of her way. It probably landed on all four feet, Bryce thought. They always do.

"Maggie?" Maryl was calling in the front room. Bryce didn’t know what Maggie had been doing but suddenly she was there in the doorway again sucking her thumb. She came in and stood over the tub staring into it. Maryl tromped in behind her with her face looking smudged. Bryce could see her expression change through his slitted eyes. He tried not to let his chest rise when he breathed. He focused on being slow and quiet and dead. I’m dead too, he said in his head.

Maryl screamed, or maybe she didn’t but it didn’t matter, she left fast and the door banged and she ran into the yard screaming Bobby Bobby Bobby. The motorcycle drove away roaring and Maryl came back inside and picked up Maggie and stood back in the doorway, breathing hard. "Mommy," a girl whispered. "Mom." Bryce couldn’t tell who said it, Maggie or Maryl, and he didn’t want to look. Maryl let the water out of the tub, it whined, it sucked at the clothes and the red threads in the water and Tony’s hair. His head made a little crack noise when it bumped to the bottom of the tub; all the water was gone. Maryl grabbed at Bryce, but she only upset his sitting balance, so he slid down the wall, she made little noises and sat on the toilet seat.

The paramedics came six minutes later. Maryl sobbed and didn’t cry but panicked and put the gun back in her room before they came into the bathroom. There were four of them and a policeman later and they all looked too tall and wide and moved fast but heavy like hunters out late in the season. They filled the bathroom and made it too hot, hotter than the rest of the house.

"This one first," they said and their radios on their belts crackled "10-21, 10-1, 10-37."
"10-51," they said back. "Yeah, 10-4."

They got Tony out, dripping red and watery with his eyes rolled back and his head lolled; they put him on a stretcher and bent over him thumping him on the chest, bandaging wrists, putting a mask on his face. The bathroom was full of big boots and equipment Bryce had never seen before.

Hands grabbed at him then like he was nothing.
"This one’s breathing. More than the other one."
No I’m not, Bryce thought.
He stayed limp, he stayed chill and floppy. They put him on his own stretcher. They covered him with blankets and strapped him in. They might have injected him with something. He couldn’t tell. The board was hard underneath him. Two of the men carried him out behind Tony. Past Maryl, shivering and trying to say things with blood-prints on her from Maggie’s feet, Maggie in the corner, past footprints on the floor and left marbles and crusts of jam and peanut butter and flies bumping into the light bulbs. They balanced him over the stairs, down, past Tony’s house into the fireflies and the stars and the dim dark. They got close to the open back of the ambulance and it was screaming – could Tony hear it? – and throwing red and blue lights everywhere, like the veins in his biology book, like the veins under Mrs. Zakowsky’s stockings. Bryce was sweating under the blanket. Maryl and Bobby stood on the porch. They argued about how to get to the hospital.

The men were official, the police asked questions everywhere. The kittens hid under the porch, the gun was quiet in the corner, the water was done going down the drain. The ambulance men climbed in, slammed doors, the driver pushed his foot down hard and the van rattled and screamed down the steep driveway and turned onto the road – Bryce hardly ever went this far – and went for town.

"Kids," said one man to the others. "Stupid shits."
Bryce couldn’t see Tony with his head strapped down on the board. He saw the ceiling arching over him, equipment throwing big shadows onto it. Whiter than toenails. Whiter than the lines on the road. Glistening smooth. Picked clean, washed clean. Inside his head Bryce laughed to himself. They were stupid. The whole world was stupid. They didn’t know he was already dead.

Cyan James 2005

This story may not be archived, reproduced or distributed further without the author's express permission. Please see our conditions of use.

author bio

Cyan_JamesCyan James was born in Lancaster, California, and grew up in Washington state. She loves many things, most of which involve reading, writing, spending time outdoors, or watching films. After graduating with a degree in genetics and photography, she took up writing, and is currently enrolled in the MFA program at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. This is her first published short story.
contact the author

navigation:

issue 49: July - August 2005 

fiction

Nicholas Royle: The Performance
Suhayl Saadi:
Sufisticated Football
Cyan James:
Lewis and Clark, Bryce and Tony

non-fiction

Josh Capps: Soldier of...

picks from back issues

Ann Cummins: Where I Work
Todd Sandvik: The Note

quiz

‘Marys’ in Literature
answers to last issue’s quiz, Food and Drink in Literature

book reviews

Antwerp by Nicholas Royle
The Not Knowing by Cathi Unsworth

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