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Reality boy, p.11
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       Reality Boy, p.11

           A. S. King
 
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  Without a word, Lisi went into her room and brought back Clue. Nanny called it Cluedo, which made Lisi and me laugh. Lisi did the cards-in-the-secret-envelope part because she never cheated, and I sometimes couldn’t help myself.

  We played three games in that hour.

  Nanny said, “You two are little dotes, you know that?” When we looked at her like we didn’t know what dote meant, she explained. “It means you don’t cause any trouble.”

  Lisi stayed quiet. In my head I counted the times I’d caused trouble. I certainly counted crapping on stuff around the house as causing trouble. I concluded Nanny must be drunk. Maybe that’s what a hot date was.

  Nanny looked at Lisi. “Did Tasha ever play Cluedo with you like this?”

  Lisi shook her head. “Tasha hates us.”

  “Tasha doesn’t hate you,” Nanny said.

  “She tells us all the time,” Lisi said. “She calls us names and hits us.”

  I reached and felt the lump on my head from two nights before. “She pushed me down the steps because she hates me.”

  “I’ll look into that,” Nanny said. “Would that make you feel better?”

  Lisi’s face was red now. “It won’t change anything.”

  I added, “Yeah.”

  “Mom and Dad never care what Tasha does to us.”

  For a split second Nanny looked like she understood. Like maybe she knew—like maybe she remembered her promise, on the first day she came this time, to make things in the house fair for me. Then she said, “Let’s change things up, will we? I want to be Mrs. Peacock this time!”

  The cameraman got the entire hour on tape until Tasha started screaming in her room like someone had stabbed her.

  Nanny got up and ran to Tasha’s room and knocked on the door, telling the cameraman to stay in the hall.

  By this time, Mom was halfway up the steps. “What are they doing to her?”

  “I’ve got it,” Nanny said. “Go down and enjoy your meal.”

  “How could you let this happen?” Mom asked.

  “Tasha’s in there on her own,” Nanny said.

  Mom clearly didn’t believe it. “Where’s Gerald?”

  “He’s been with me for the last hour,” Nanny said. She pressed her mouth to the crack of the door. “Tasha! Open up the door!”

  Tasha screamed, “I need Mom! I need Mom!”

  “I’m here!” Mom called.

  Tasha slowly opened the door and Mom gently pushed Nanny out of the way and went in.

  Nanny, Lisi, Dad, and I stood in the hall until Mom opened the door and demanded that we come into Tasha’s room to see what was going on. There was a giant turd in her bathroom sink. Allegedly. I didn’t get to see it, but I admit I was curious because I’d only ever seen my own turds and I wondered what other people’s turds would look like.

  Nanny said, “Gerald didn’t do that. He was with me for the last hour. We were playing a board game. On camera.” She seemed completely pissed off that Mom was somehow blaming her for this.

  “Well, he somehow magically got in here and did this,” Mom said.

  “Yeah,” Tasha said.

  Nanny and Tasha stared at each other. Then Nanny took me and Lisi to our rooms and told us to stay in there with the doors closed.

  She took Mom, Dad, and Tasha downstairs, and after that I didn’t hear anything because I did what I was told and stayed in my room.

  But when I saw episode two when it aired, they’d cut the whole thing out. The whole day—the chicken Parmesan, the side salad, the garlic bread, the hour of Clue, Nanny’s fancy blue dress and hot date, and even the mystery turd.

  They cut it all out as if the day had never happened.

  33

  DURING THE LAST half hour of SPED, I sat there thinking about what had happened in the bathroom and how much I had wanted to punch myself in the face. I wished I could just split into two and have the other me beat me to death and then that half of me could go to prison. Homicidal Half Boy: tonight at eight.

  I text Joe Jr. once I get in my car in the school parking lot. Fuck this shit. I erase it. Do you ever hate yourself? I erase that, too. Why do we take it? I erase that and roll my eyes for being so dramatic. I finally type: Still can’t figure out why the clown dentist is so fckn funny.

  I drive to the boxing gym. When I get there, it’s pretty empty, and I go straight to the big bag and grab a pair of gloves and I start working it. It’s amazing how out of shape my hands feel after a weeklong break. And after punching the dumb bathroom stall today, my right hurts when I hit the bag. I try to superimpose faces on the bag. Have a nice day, loser. Tasha. Mom. Tasha. Mom. Tasha. But then it’s just me. Me. Me. Me. Me. Me. Me. Me. Me. Me. Me. Me.

  After a little while, Bob the trainer walks over and watches me.

  “Your left is weak,” he says. “Here.” He shows me how my left isn’t punching straight, and moves his left the way he wants me to move my left. Then he says, “Keep that blocking hand up.”

  I pull my right close to my chin and hit the bag with my left a few times. He nods in approval and stands behind the bag to steady it. My hands still hurt, but I keep going until I sweat through my shirt. Then I move to the speed bag.

  “Did you work out your shit with the Jamaican?” he asks.

  “He’s not Jamaican.”

  He nods. “You know who I mean, though, right?”

  “Yeah.”

  “He’s a great little boxer,” he says. “I think he could go all the way.”

  I stop and look at him. “He couldn’t take me last week. Too slow.”

  “He’s lazy,” Bob the trainer says.

  I’ve been coming to this gym for over three years now, and if Bob thinks Jacko the fake Jamaican could go all the way, then I assume he knows if I could, too.

  “Could I go all the way?” I ask.

  “If you were allowed in the ring, I think you probably could,” he says.

  Then I start on the speed bag and Bob the trainer goes back to his office and I’m left wondering if I even like boxing anymore.

  Now that there’s an all the way and I can’t get there, boxing seems stupid. It’s like learning how to be a clown but never getting to perform your stupid dentist act in the ring. It’s like learning how to drive while you’re spending life in prison.

  I stop hitting the bag and stand there. I stare at it as it swings back and forth and eventually comes to a stop.

  The bag is me. I can’t explain why the bag is me, but the bag is me. I have been swinging and I have come to a complete stop. I have no idea why. I have no idea why anything. Like, why I’m here. Or why I stopped. Or why I was swinging. I have no idea why my tribal music didn’t work this morning. No idea why I don’t feel like the chief. No idea why I felt like the chief in the first place. No idea why I ever started boxing. Or nonboxing. No idea why I wrap myself in plastic wrap and no idea how not to or what it really means. I just can’t breathe. I feel like I’m going to spontaneously combust, so I pick up my keys and my sweatshirt and I leave.

  I sit in the parking lot with the heater blasting until I get warm enough in my sweat-soaked shirt. Then I punch the dashboard. It leaves my knuckles stinging, like what happens when I punch the drywall.

  A car parks in the lot, and it’s Jacko the fake Jamaican. He gets out and walks into the gym. As I watch him, I am a snowball of rage that’s reached the bottom of a very steep hill. I turn off the car and follow him in.

  I grab a fresh mouth guard from the cabinet and put on headgear. He sees me and smiles and I nod at him in that way that can only mean I’m ready, and he finds headgear and puts his mouth guard in, too.

  We find a random guy to lace us up and I fly into the ring.

  No one rings a bell or referees us. We just start going at it. I go for his face, mostly. He goes for my ribs. There is blood inside of a minute—no idea whose blood, but who cares? That’s the point. Blood is the point.

  B-L-O-O-D I-S T-H-E P-O-I-N-T.

 
; If I could bleed out the Crapper into the ring, I’d do it.

  If I could bleed out everything that’s wrong with my life, I’d bleed until I was empty.

  I hit him in the face over and over again and his nose is pouring. He is a fountain of blood, and yet he won’t keep his hand up to block, and I keep hitting the open target. He is me. Me. Me. Me. He is too dumb to block his face, so I will punch it.

  Have a nice day, loser.

  Minutes go by—it’s impossible to tell how many. I try to maintain a rhythm, but he’s clumsy and slow and he won’t dance with me like he did last week. When I dodge his head shots, he slams me in the guts again. When he does that, I take the opportunity to pound his nose further into oblivion.

  At first he said stuff. I don’t know what. Stuff to egg me on, all garbled in the fight. Now he says nothing. He’s breathing through his mouth. He’s wishing for the bell, I think. But there is no bell and I keep punching the fountain of blood.

  My ribs are cracking. I can feel the snap. It feels good. Ribs are like prison bars for my insides. Jacko is snapping all the bars. All the bars. Jacko is setting me free, rib by rib.

  This thought distracts me. This thought makes me see that I am failing.

  Roger will be so disappointed.

  Just as I start to wonder if Hannah will visit me in jail, the fake Jamaican catches me on the side of my head—on my cheek, I think—and makes my neck twist. I nearly lose my footing, but I pull up my left to block and dance backward a little and take a short breather. It feels like we’ve been doing this for an hour.

  He’s hunched over now, still spurting blood. He’s tired. He tries to aim for my head a few times, but I dodge and block and slam him one in the gut and one in the chest that knocks the wind out of him and he doubles in half and while he’s bent over, I take my knee and jam it into his face and his head and he backs away and I kick at him like I’m an animal.

  I am an animal. Jacko has just broken me out of my cage.

  “Whoa! Whoa!” someone says. It’s Bob the trainer. “Jesus, guys! What the hell?”

  Before now, nothing existed outside of this ring. Now there’s Bob. And Jacko is bleeding a river.

  “What the hell, kid?” Bob says again. I’m breathing fast, my mouth forced open by the mouth guard, and then I realize he’s talking to me.

  What the hell, kid?

  Jacko isn’t saying anything, either, as Bob shoves shit up his nose and takes a soaking sponge to his face to see where the cuts are. I’m still dancing. Hopping. Waiting. My body is in destroy mode. Bob walks over to me and motions for me to hold out my gloves. He pulls them off and my hands are like clubs.

  “You didn’t even tape up?” he asks.

  It echoes. You didn’t even tape up?

  It’s a dumb question, asked by someone who thinks we thought about this. Like Bob hasn’t met angry, impulsive teenage boys before today.

  He makes me sit on a stool in the corner of the ring with my hands in a bucket of ice water. He takes Jacko to the office and as I sit there, I wonder again if Hannah will visit me in jail.

  “I’ll visit,” Snow White says.

  “I will, too,” Lisi says.

  “I’d really like to talk about it now,” I say.

  They disappear and it echoes. I’d really like to talk about it now.

  34

  I AM IN my happy place, surfing the Internet with ice on my cheek and ribs and hands and anywhere else I can put it. Mom asked me what the ice was for. I told her I’d been at the gym and that my hands hurt. That didn’t surprise her at all.

  She’s going to see my cheek, though, if it bruises. And so will Roger, at tomorrow’s appointment. It’s not like I came out looking as bad as the fake Jamaican, though. He was so messed up, I’m checking my window for the cops every five minutes.

  The Internet helps me forget. Some guys watch music videos. Some guys watch porn. I watch circus videos because I really think I’m going to do it. I really think Joe Jr. is wrong about how great I have it. He doesn’t live in a cage, you know?

  As I play the same trapeze video over and over and stare at the monitor, I try to will myself into Gersday, with no luck. It’s as if Gersday has been hacked and someone changed my password.

  The trapeze artists are like magic. It’s a circus in Monaco, where no one has heard of the Crapper. These three Asian women and three Asian men do this act. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen in my life—so many spins and twists, and then they manage to catch each other in midair. How do they do that? I half think about trying it—trapeze—but then I remember that everything is pointless, like boxing. Learning trapeze would only mean I would never be able to actually perform on a trapeze.

  I click on a different video and I watch a guy do a double flip and miss his catch and land in the net. The audience applauds anyway.

  I hear Mom call my name, but I ignore it. Then she calls again. “Gerald! Phone!”

  I go into my parents’ bedroom to pick up the cordless and I can’t figure out who would call me at home. I think maybe it’s Lisi and she got my mental message that I needed to talk. Or maybe it’s the police.

  “Hey,” Hannah says. Then Mom hangs up.

  My heart stops for a second when I realize it’s her.

  “You there?” she asks.

  “Yeah,” I say. “Hi. How’d you—uh—I mean, wow. I was pretty sure our number was unlisted.”

  “It is,” she says.

  “Oh.” I walk to my room quickly so Mom can’t hear me, and I close the door.

  “Beth gave it to me,” she explains.

  I’m pretty sure Beth only had my cell number, but whatever. It really doesn’t matter now, does it? “So hey. You working on Wednesday?” I ask. “Dollar Night. Should be a riot.”

  “I didn’t call to talk about work,” she says. “I called to talk about you.”

  “Me?”

  “You.”

  “What about me? I mean—yeah. What about me?” I say.

  “I like you. I want to go out on a date or something. Together,” she says. “And before you tell me again that you’re not allowed, you should know that I’m not allowed, either, and that my parents can’t know and my brother sure as hell can’t know.”

  I’m in Gersday. My desk is made of waffle cone. I am ice cream. Peach soft-serve ice cream.

  “Gerald?” she says.

  “Yeah.”

  “And just so you know, this isn’t some defiant shit I’m doing. I mean—I’ve liked you for a while and I was too shy to say anything because, well, you’re Gerald.”

  I say, “Wow. I had no idea.” And then after an uncomfortable second of searching for something else to say, I say, “I’d love to take you on a date…. God. That sounds so retarded.”

  “Don’t say that,” she says.

  “What?”

  “Going on a date doesn’t sound retarded. Plus, that word bugs me. So there’s rule number one. No saying retarded.”

  “Huh,” I say. “I hear it a lot, so I guess it doesn’t really bug me anymore. But if we’re making rules, I have one.”

  “Yes, we’re making rules. What’s yours?”

  I have no idea what my rule is, so I blurt out, “No musicals. I really hate musicals. Movies, stage, any musicals, forget it,” I say. This is a joke, but she doesn’t laugh. She sounds nervous. You don’t seriously believe she likes you, right? You’re probably on speakerphone right now, her friends huddled around with their hands over their mouths, giggling.

  “That’s easy. I hate musicals, too,” she says. “And no chick flicks. I hate that shit.”

  “Deal,” I say. I reach up to my face with my sore right hand and feel my smile. I trace it with my index finger.

  “How can being called retarded not bug you?” she asks. “I mean, you know. I know everyone in your class has been called something at least once, but still.”

  So she knows I go to SPED class. Good. “I guess being Gerald ‘the Crapper’ Faust has its
benefits,” I say. “Plus, there’s a lot you don’t know.”

  “Then we’ll have to schedule long walks to talk about it,” she says.

  I don’t know what to say. I give it a week, tops, before you fuck it up completely.

  “Gerald?”

  “Yeah?”

  “So—uh—you’re not just saying yes out of pity, are you?”

  “What did you mean when you said you were shy because I’m Gerald?” I ask.

  “Uh—you’re Gerald. Famous. A local celeb. Generally untouchable by any reality TV star who came after you.”

  “Shit,” I say.

  “Sorry.”

  “I’m not famous. I’m infamous,” I say. “There’s a big difference.”

  “I don’t know. I think you’re famous,” she says. “And I should know. I even remember when the paper ran a story about your family and my mom cut it out for me so I could keep it.”

  “You watched that crap?”

  “Yeah. Didn’t you?”

  “You don’t seem very shy to me,” I say.

  “I’m shy until you get to know me. Then I’m just Hannah.” She laughs a little. “And, Gerald?”

  “Yeah?”

  “Tomorrow in school—you’ll be okay and stuff? Like—to me? This isn’t a big joke or anything, is it?”

  I had no idea other people could be as paranoid as I am. Especially not Hannah. She seems so confident. Maybe that’s why she sees a shrink. Maybe she’s paranoid. Maybe she’s bipolar—up and down like Tasha. Shit.

  “What?” I say. “Of course I’ll be okay to you in school. We’re friends. Like, even if this dating thing doesn’t work out. We’re friends.” I say this like I’m in some Charlie Brown movie. Like I’m Linus and she’s a girl Linus.

  “That’s cute,” she says. “Probably impossible, but cute. Now go explain to your mom that I’m not a weirdo. She acted like I was some stalker or something when I asked for you. I’m guessing you guys might get that a lot.” She laughs like it’s funny, but we did get stalkers a lot, once.

  “Okay,” I say.

 
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