He slipped up the steep stairs and someone laughed. Maybe at him. Maybe at something near him at that same moment. Harrison stared at his shoes and wiped his forehead, more to cover his face than to remove any anxious sweat or rain. Just to the right of the accordion bus doors was a puddle that boys spat in and watched their bubbled saliva float around like captainless ships. There was plenty of room for the number of students who rode the bus home on Fridays, but Harrison felt like he was squeezing into his military green bench seat and might struggle to get out at his stop. The chaos of the first week of ninth grade and the sudden pulverizing evidence that some of the younger boys had not been introduced to deodorant slimed over Harrison’s damp hair and shoulders. James Hetfield screamed into his ears, and he closed his eyes, hoping the cheese chariot would slither away from the school he hated and friends in it who didn’t exist.
His mother’s handwriting greeted him at the door on an S-shaped knock-off pink Post-It. BACK SOON, KIDDO. YOU ROCK. And the final two words hovered over three thick straight lines. She was nowhere near as clever as she thought. Harrison found the illogically placed faux hideakey in the planter to the left of the door. He wadded up the sticky note and withdrew two Coke cans from the fridge. Once upstairs, he looked out his bedroom window for his mom’s car and, seeing nothing but the sharp landscaping of his neighbors retired hands, Harrison thought about Isabell’s creamy brown-skinned friend and masturbated in his bed. James Hetfield kept screaming the whole time.
[The main character has visited his 12-year-old son in the boy’s room as he’s preparing to go to a female classmate’s birthday party. The kid does not know what to take her for a present.]
“Well, you’re probably wanting to avoid something too personal like jewelry, right? Might send the wrong message?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, do you like this girl?” I sat on his bed and he stood holding the same pair of jeans he’d had since I arrived.
“I don’t know. You mean like…like her?”
“I, uh…think so.”
“I mean, she’s nice and stuff.”
“Okay. I think I get it. If I can correctly decipher your coded phrasing, I think you’re saying she’s cute, single, and you want to let her know you like her, but since the whole class will be there, you’re afraid to announce that to the world, mostly because you are insecure that she will not reciprocate the same feelings.”
He stared at me. “What?”
“Nothing. What about a gift card?”
The Sunday morning before we took Liam to camp, Val and I had had a discussion concerning the rap music Liam had purchased with a gift card he received for his birthday.
“Val, let me just read these lyrics to you. Perhaps you don’t know what our son listens to these days.”
“I know,” she said, “but is it really that much different than when we were kids? The magazines are calling that artist a genius.”
“Hon. This guy has a song called ‘Rape My Dick.’”
“Oh. Well, I’m sure it’s no big deal.” She returned to her much-more-important gossip magazine.
Then I went to his room and found him trying to set the world record for slowest packing job ever.
“So, son. I’ve read through some of the lyrics of your favorite song. And I quote, ‘Come on, come on. Come on, bitch/Come on, come on. Rape My Dick.’ Poetic. It may be copyright infringement though, son. I feel like that may have been lifted from A. R. Ammons…no wait. Rita Dove. Definitely a Dove.”
“Who are those people?”
“Dad. You know I don’t really care for the lyrics, right? I mean, is it that much different than what you liked when you were my age?
I hated it when the teamed up without my knowledge.