Rules of my best friends.., p.1
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       Rules of My Best Friend's Body, p.1

           Matthue Roth
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Rules of My Best Friend's Body
Rules

  of my best

  Friend’s

  Body

  a novel by

  Matthue Roth

  by the same author

  FICTION

  Never Mind the Goldbergs

  Candy in Action

  Losers

  NONFICTION

  Yom Kippur a Go-Go

  Automatic: Death, Girls, and R.E.M.

  PICTURE BOOKS

  My First Kafka

  The Gobblings

  A HEVRIA PROJECT

  bs”d

  Rules of My Best Friend’s Body

  Copyright © 2017 Matthue Roth

  Cover copyright © 2016 Katie Skau

  All rights reserved.

  ISBN: 1535149129

  ISBN-13: 978-1535149129

  Because of contractual obligations, the author may not profit from this book. You’re seriously just paying for the paper and printing. In any case, feel free to copy it, cut it up, share it or give it away. I’d like that. If you could attribute it, that’d be nice, but either way.

  If you’d like to see what else Matthue is up to, please check out his other books. Or drop him an email at matthue@gmail.com. He’d like that.

  Katie Skau designed the cover with hand papercuts. Check out her stuff and hire her at www.katieskau.com.

  Matthue is a part of the Hevria arts collective. You can be, too.

  It begins at hevria.com.

  sketchy

  The best thing that ever happened to me was, I learned to be invisible.

  I had hair that stuck straight up and teeth that stuck out and a dead-on-arrival collection of button-down shirts that my mother got me at a discount outlet. I was the kind of kid you took one look at and you knew you’ll be talking to them on a computer helpline one day. In the Yards, the neighborhood where I lived, to be a nerd was to to resign yourself to an early, painful death. All the kids played football, and all the adults worked in factories. If you couldn’t fight, well, they made you do it anyway.

  My sole saving grace was that I could draw. If a new comic book came out on a Wednesday afternoon, by Thursday morning I’d have copied the cover perfectly. Colors and fonts and everything. I’d draw in other kids in class, too, being caught in Spider-Man’s webbing or inadvertently sliced in half by Wolverine’s claws. I’d make detailed sketches of their entrails dropping out, wild exaggerations of their faces going How did THAT happen or Huh?! at their unexpected dismemberments.

  I tried to hide my violent creations. I drew under tables or inside my desk. I drew with the cover of my notebook closed, a textbook propped upright, just low enough for the other kids not to notice.

  Eventually, though, Steve Gibbon made a grab for it. He snatched the paper right off my desk, sneered “What’s this?” and gazed thoughtfully at the depiction I’d been inking of him and Perry Kerry getting ripped apart by savage androids.

  I thought it would be another excuse to beat me up. Instead they loved it. They wanted to see more. When they threatened me, they started to take my comic covers instead of cash. Gradually, they started to leave out the whole beating-me-up part.

  After that, they barely bothered me at all.

  They weren’t my friends. I didn’t fool myself—they only remembered I existed when they needed something from me. The next year, when we got too old to care about Wednesday comics, they barely remembered I existed at all.

  That was fine with me. There was more time for me to draw, and more time for me to be alone.

  first one in

  One day at Hebrew School I was sitting at my desk before class began, early as usual. My parents always dropped me off ten minutes before anyone else came. To get a jump on things, they said, although I promise you, nobody in Hebrew School ever cared about getting a jump on things. We did our homework while the teacher was calling roll. It was just that kind of a place.

  I didn’t have anything to do, so I was on my phone. I was drawing. The phone was a model from two years ago, and really cheap. Its cheapness was painfully apparent. It was slow, and it looked lame, and its shell was a bright brown that no respectable smartphone would ever be colored.

  This was a few weeks into the year, when things were still new and tentative and unsure. Hebrew School was two days a week, after school. In theory I should have loved Hebrew School. It was everything that lined up with my personality--studying non-required things, and learning Bible stories and Israel stories that were weird and obscure and occasionally violent. In actuality, though, it ended up being a lot of rich kids from the suburbs whose parents were forcing them to go. Half the kids at Hebrew School came from the suburbs, the rich kids, and half were from inside the city, and most of them--most of us--were average, or middle-class, or poor.

  I held the phone beneath desk level, atop my lap. Usually I drew on paper, but sometimes I just needed to draw no matter what. It possessed me. My parents would never splurge on something like art paper or charcoal crayons. That didn’t matter to me. I’d draw on anything that was around—catalogues, restaurant menus, my own other hand. But my phone was easiest.

  By holding my phone low I was trying to create an effect of subtlety, of sneaking my phone in class, except that not even the teacher was there yet, and there was really no point. Also, the class was completely empty. Here’s the visual: A classroom with no students, no teacher, only a sea of empty desks, and me. If you didn’t know the dark truth, you’d think I was like that kid who’s so excited to see a band that he shows up first to the concert, actually a groupie of Prophets class.

  The next person to show up was this girl. I’d noticed her in class before. I mean, she was hard not to notice. She was beautiful. One of these girls who you think, of course they grew up in a castle, with long blond hair in a parabolic ponytail who spoke in immaculate and well-framed sentences like a TV news anchor, always dressing a little too fancy for school, like she’s been invited to a nightclub immediately after seventh period.

  I didn’t look up. I was sketching a new comic cover—tracing outlines with the tip of my finger, a few delicate strokes to show definition, then using the fat ballish pad of my knuckle to do the shading. The drawing program was advanced, and my phone was slow to react—just loading up a single graphic took almost a full minute—but I didn’t mind waiting. I had nothing else to do.

  Except for us, the entire room was empty. This girl, though, walked right over to my corner of the room.

  Without hesitating—the kind of confidence that only suburban kids have—she plopped down right next to me. She didn’t even leave a seat in between, the way you do when you sit next to a friend but you’re trying to be subtle. She just watched my phone screen, my fingers adjusting the scan of this drawing I’d just done. She kept craning over into my personal space and watching, not subtle at all.

  Her chin was cupped in her palm. Her elbow pivoted on the desk. She was like a tripod, like the controls at the base of a telescope, and she was zeroing in on me.

  “Do you mind?” I snapped.

  “Not if you don’t,” she said, nonchalantly, almost nicely. Like she didn’t even realize anything was wrong with what she was doing.

  “I can’t talk,” I said. “I’m drawing.”

  “I know. I’ve been watching you draw in class.”

  “You’ve been watching me?”

  “Well, there’s nothing else interesting going on. The class is boring. The kids are boring. And that—” she peeked over the desk to study my drawing closer “—looks really good.”

  “It’s the new Uncanny X-Men.”

  “Then why does the person getting crushed by the Sentinel look like Dr. Tolsky?”

  I smiled a little.
I had to.

  “You know what a Sentinel is,” I observed. A trace of admiration crept through.

  “Well, sure,” she said. “I mean, what self-respecting mutant doesn’t know what a Sentinel is?”

  In X-Men, the heroes were all mutants, people born with superhuman powers who were feared and hated by a world that did not—could not—understand them.

  “You are so not a mutant,” I said. I didn’t realize how defensive I sounded until it was already out of my mouth.

  She shot me a knowing look.

  “Not all mutations are physical,” she said.

  “And how do I know you aren’t a spy for the government?” I risked making the joke. I could barely believe we were having this conversation.

  “Because,” she said, “I’ve been undercover my whole life.”

  Before I had a chance to react, or to come up with something one-tenth as clever and cool to shoot back, the teacher walked in. Somehow, the room had filled up without me noticing. And, the way that good kids like us were both trained to—and we were good kids, of course, both of us instinctively attuned to the wishes of every adult around, instantly compliant, instantly sheepish, instantly giving 100% attention—we both fell silent.

  I pulled out my textbook.

  She yanked the phone from my hand.

  “What are you doing?” I whisper-hissed in her ear. Sounding, I’m sure, annoying, but I’m also pretty sure she didn’t mind.

  “Entering my phone number,” she whispered back. She daintily tapped the call button on my phone, and hers lit up too. “So we don’t have to stop talking.”

  “Stop talking!” snapped the teacher, who by now was seated behind his own desk, eyes sweeping over the class, trying to command attention and psyche out any potential miscreants.

  My phone landed in my lap. I looked at the name she’d typed.

  LARISSA FLEISHMAN, it said.

  “Arthur Kestrel,” I said, sticking out many hand. And then, “Larissa Fleishman,” I said, repeating her, running my tongue along the roller coaster of syllables. At the time, I had no idea how often I’d be saying it. But in and out of days, through weeks, it would come to feel like a new language I was learning to speak, as we learned each other’s private languages, spending more and more time with each other until we were best friends, the closest people to each other in the world and those words, her name, became the most natural words in the world for me to say.

  two tin cans and a dynamite fuse

  Alone in my room that night, nothing to do but homework. The bubbled and cracking paint on the ceiling, the shadows of sporadic police sirens in my windows. This was the Yards, the world where I lived, and it never stopped invading my head.

  I sat with my drawing pad, my real paper one, which I’d saved up three months and traveled halfway across the city to buy. I squashed myself between pillows and the wall, wanting to draw, but feeling oddly dissatisfied about my usual X-muses. I was sick of copying art. I could try drawing something original—something of my own—I just didn’t know what. I tried a few figures, but the guys all ended up looking like Superman and the girls in their spandex looked like girls who were way too hot to ever go out with me, making me simultaneously turned on and depressed.

  Then the most unexpected thing of all happened. The phone rang.

  You have to understand: people didn’t just call me. I’m not the kind of person to talk on the phone for hours about, I don’t know, TV or clothes or whatever. Those things bored me, and I didn’t know any gossip till long after everybody else. I did have a phone, at first for emergencies and later just for other things, but I rarely used it as an actual phone.

  The screen said LARISSA FLEISHMAN.

  I snapped it up right away. “Hello?” I said, uncertain, not really sure whether I suspected my Caller ID of lying to me.

  “What were you doing just now?”

  “Uh...hosting a banquet for my many and varied friends?”

  “Tres coincidence! I just slipped away from a banquet of my own.”

  “Now what would you go ahead and do a thing like that for?”

  “You know, it’s the strangest thing. I couldn’t tell you. I just felt called to adventure. I typed the word adventure into my phone, and your number popped right up.”

  That’s so nice, I thought to myself, the way she spoke to me like a normal person instead of as a girl, as if we were on the same level and I wouldn’t leap to obey her every word.

  “Seriously, I’m not bothering you, am I?” she said. “I just needed to get out of my world. I figured I’d see what you were doing.”

  “Oh, please,” I said. “The reason I gave you my number is explicitly so that you could bother me.”

  “Actually, I’m the one who gave me your number. I stole your phone from you, remember?”

  Her voice was cheerful and punchy enough so that I felt at liberty to keep the sarcasm going. “That explains everything. Except...why are you calling?”

  “Well, I was just so offended that you didn’t invite me to your banquet—”

  “What banquet?”

  Nice one, Arty. Way to forget your own brilliant ruse.

  “It’s okay,” she said, “you don’t have to play dumb. I’m not hurt. Instead, you can just make it up to me sometime.”

  “Sure!” I blurted out at once, way too eager. And then: “Uh, how?”

  “Hang out with me this weekend.”

  “Really? You...you don’t have any plans?”

  She gave a lyrical grunt. “Most weekends, I just follow everyone else in my class to somebody’s house or a movie,” she said. “They just don’t know how to imagine, you know? They’re so stuck in Being Right Here.”

  “I know,” I breathed. I did. I so utterly knew what she was talking about. It was exactly what I'd always thought, and exactly what I thought nobody else ever thought. “What should we, uh, do?”

  “I don’t know,” she said. “What is there to do around you? Where do you live?”

  I held my breath. Admitting my native neighborhood was tantamount to a confession. Then I said it, quick and no-biggie, “The Yards.”

  She took a moment to answer. “Impressive,” she said. “You don’t seem like a tough kid.”

  “No,” I said. “We’re just poor.”

  “Oh.” She didn’t have a good answer to that. There really wasn’t one, not if you were rich. She recovered quick, though. “Do you like it there?”

  “I assure you, if we were to hang out in my neighborhood, we might die of boredom.”

  “I doubt we would do that. We’re interesting people. There must be hidden treasures.”

  “Come on. In the Yards?”

  She snorted a laugh. It was honest and spontaneous and I wouldn’t have thought she was capable of it. “Maybe you’re right,” she said. “It might not be horrible to hang out at a c with you, but we can go somewhere else.”

  “So where should we?” I was lost. I was waiting for her lead.

  “Whatever. Wherever. We could do the most boring thing in the world. We’ll figure out a way to make it great.”

  This all sounded totally exciting. Way too exciting, if you ask me. Nothing remotely exciting had ever happened to me in my life. There had to be a hitch.

  “Larissa, can I just ask—I know this is a strange question, and maybe I shouldn’t be asking it, but why do you want to hang out with me? I talk funny and I’m into weird things and I get beat up a lot and I’m not like everybody else.”

  There was quiet for a moment, and I figured she was thinking. Or maybe she was offended that I’d even asked her. Or maybe this was all an elaborate trap, one of the cool kids had put her up to this, like Portia Murray or Mitch Martin, and I’d finally caught on, and she had to think of a new excuse. That must be it. There was no other explanation.

  Finally, “Because you’re so not cool," she said, and I didn’t understand her, I was ready to not believe her, except, uh, that was the truest thing I’
d heard all day. “I’m sorry?” I said.

  “Don’t be sorry,” she replied fast. “Honestly, you’re the first person I’ve talked to in weeks who I didn’t have to pretend to be another type of person while I was talking to them. It's kind of refreshing. I like talking to you, okay?” she said. “That’s all. That's why. And I want to talk more.”

  I sat in silence, gobsmacked.

  “You’re really strange,” I said.

  “Is that bad?” said Larissa, sounding cautious for the first time in our conversation.

  No, it wasn’t bad. Strange was not bad at all. Strange was what I was, and what my best-friend-by-default Damon was, and he was also basically my only friend, and basically no one else in my world was strange at all.

  “Okay, then, you weirdo,” I said. “Let’s go be strange together.”

  “Perfect! So I’ll drive you home Sunday after Hebrew School?”

  “You can drive?”

  “How the hell else could I ever escape from the suburbs?” she said, with a snark in her smile, I could see it in my mind. “There are big things in store for us, Arthur. We’re going to be great friends.”

 
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