Bobblehead

Bobblehead

Bobblehead

A PRIDE MONTH Short Story by Marisa Crane

12.

         All of this has already happened but it feels wrong to speak in the past tense and act like I have any real insight into the events of that month—you know, hindsight is 20/20, all that bullshit. There’s no reason to hide behind the facade of clarity, when in reality I still don’t understand the moment it all went wrong. I have some exploring to do; might as well bring you along for the ride.

 

11.

         The kitchen walls are bone-white like an asylum, and the light fixture on the ceiling reminds me of a dead jellyfish no longer propelling gracefully through the water, but condemned to an afterlife of serving humans. The black marble countertops reflect the morning light pouring in through the sliding glass door that leads to the back patio. The townhouse is uncomfortably new, the kind that makes you wanna rip the doors off all the cabinets just so you can breathe.

         Brochan leans against the island counter, his elbow resting on the cold surface, his other hand on his hip. His hands remind me of spider webs. I once heard that spider silk is stronger than steel, you know, pound for pound. The last thing I want is to get caught up in him.

         He is beautiful. Like Jim Morrison, but bonier—if you can believe it—and with frizzier hair. A lion’s mane. He moves like a lion too: deliberately. I followed him as he toured me around the townhouse, his shoulder blades undulating smoothly under his skin. Now Brochan pretends to fluff his hair from the bottom, like my grandma used to whenever she passed a mirror—only when he does it it’s funny and charming, not disruptive and vain.

         We have only just met. My face is on fire.

         “Just so you know, I’m both a boy and a girl,” says Brochan.

         “Okay,” I say, trying not to look at the outline of his (?) dick (?) in his (?) blue boxer briefs.

         “Actually,” says Brochan, removing his hands from his (?) and hip and pointing toward the ceiling as if to touch God’s pointed finger. “I’m many boys and girls. It’s not like each one is the same.

         I listened to this podcast the other day about human beings and our obsession with categories. It’s for survival purposes. Like, we learn what a couch is and then file it away under “Couch” in our brains so that the next time we see a couch, we aren’t wary of it. I mean, I understand the concept but I fucking hate it. If I didn’t have “Girl” stored in my brain’s filing cabinet, I think I’d be okay when I saw one. I wouldn’t go ballistic or anything.

         I nod, terrified of saying the wrong thing. I’ve never met anyone who was more than one person before. At least not knowingly.

         “Oh, and I still sleep with my baby blankie and I snort a line of Klonopin every night before bed. I hope that’s okay,” Brochan continues.

         “Sure,” I say.

         Talking to him (?) is like running next to a train I never attempt to climb on.

         “You can call me “he,” “his,” “him,” by the way. Even though I’m both genders.”

         I nod.

         “See, I knew you’d get it. We’re gonna be great roommates, Myles,” Brochan smiles. The wrinkles in the outer corners of his eyes are barely noticeable, almost as if a child had drawn them in the sand seconds before the tide came up.

         I should say something, be a human about it, but instead I continue to nod like a fucking bobblehead you receive for free at a baseball game.

 

10.

         Almost immediately after I move in, Brochan suggests we have a competition to see who can lose the most weight in a month. The prize is $50 and a bottle of top-shelf gin, he says. I go along with it even though I can see the outline of his collarbone through his black American Psycho t-shirt. I want to pull his collarbone apart with my teeth, making a wish while doing so, but instead I follow him upstairs to weigh ourselves on the bathroom scale. He has a magnetic air about him that predisposes you to following him wherever he goes. 

         “We have to do it in the morning because that’s when our weight is the most accurate,” Brochan explains over his shoulder.

         I step on the scale first. 167 pounds, typical for me. I step off, unfazed, never having paid much attention to my weight.

         “115,” he says triumphantly, as if he’s already won the bet. He’s pushing 5 ft. 10 in. I figure there’s no way in hell he’ll win the bet since he hasn’t got an ounce of fat to lose.

         I follow him back downstairs where he writes down our weights in the September 12th block on our refrigerator calendar.

         “October 12th, it’s on, babe,” he grins.

         At first, I think I am mishearing when he calls me “babe,” until I soon realize that he uses the word casually and abundantly, the way some people may use “dude.” Brochan has this energy about him. He calls everyone “babe,” but when he’s talking to you, you feel like the only one he’s ever addressed that way. It’s maddening because rationally you know the truth but the truth doesn’t matter when he looks at you.

         In the morning before we go to work, he munches on fistfuls of kale and spinach. For the first week he eats like a rabbit. After that, not at all. He comes up with excuses to avoid certain foods until there aren’t any foods left to avoid. Apples have too much sugar. Carrots can turn you orange. Blueberries steal your soul. Cucumbers haunt your dreams.

         Brochan visits me in my office, sweat dripping down his face. We work for a start-up, which means the supervisors have no idea what any of the employees are doing. We all just sort of meander from space to space, furrowing our brows and typing furiously on our laptops. I’m not even sure what our company’s mission is. I applied for the job because it said they were looking for enthusiastic and motivated applicants and given the chance, I can pass for one of those.

         I think about this as Brochan does the chicken dance around the tiny room, airing out his pits and talking maniacally, out of his mind on those over-the-counter fat burning pills. The kind you impulse purchase at a gas station next to the Minion key chains and dollar lighters. The kind that work by giving you a heart attack so you stop obsessing over body image.

         He grabs the coffee on my desk and chugs it before I can protest. The veins in his arms throb. His forearms look like maps of the New York City subway system. I open a red wrapper and pop a cherry-flavored appetite suppressant into my mouth.

         “Hey, give me one,” he smiles, holding out his hand like a sexy trick-or-treater.

         “Nope, all’s fair in unsafe weight loss procedures,” I cock my head. I want to throw him down on my desk and kiss the life out of him. Maybe in some other reality I do. 

         “You know what I’ve been thinking? We should go to Australia. What do you think?” he asks, continuing his chicken dance.

         “What?”

         “Yeah, we should totally go visit Australia and backpack up and down the west coast. Let’s just get the fuck outta here. There's nothing here for us. We can be free there.”

         The way Brochan says “free” sends a shiver up my spine. I suddenly understand how Charles Manson managed to convince otherwise normal people to join his "Family." I lean back in my chair and fold my hands behind my head in attempts to act nonchalant at his suggestion of us running away together.

         “What’s in Western Australia?” I ask.

         “I don’t know. Kangaroos, koalas, turquoise water. Let’s find out.”

         I shrug, then lean forward and turn to face my computer to hide my smile and move the mouse around on the screen to make it look like I’m doing something important. Brochan leans over my shoulder and points to one of my ten or so tabs open at the top of the browser. He can see enough of the website title to identify it.

         “I knew it,” he laughs. “Me too.”

         He kisses me on the cheek then closes my office door and I can hear him half-skip, half-run down the hallway back to his office. I exit out of the tab and Google Western Australia. Brochan was right. There is unfathomably gorgeous turquoise water I can see my feet in. There are more animals than people.

         I want nothing more than to run away with him.

 

9.

         Of course we never go to Western Australia. In fact, Brochan never brings it up again. This is something I quickly learn about him: everything is a fucking fantastic idea for about half a day. Then he moves onto the next grandiose plan. Companies we’ll never start, bars we’ll never open, continents we’ll never explore, concerts we’ll never attend, protests we’ll never hold. It’s like hopping between every horse on the carousel before the ride even begins.

         I avoid growing attached to anything that isn’t happening in that exact moment. Stick around long enough and you’ll come to understand that there is no future and there is no promise with Brochan. The only thing he sees through to the end is our weight loss competition, and I think that’s because he doesn’t require the parameters of a competition to go days without food. It just gives him an excuse to do so. His diet, however, doesn’t deter him from drinking heavily. As a result, he’s typically drunk within twenty minutes of getting home from work every evening.

         Soon after I move in boys begin coming in and out of our house as if the entrance is a revolving door. All sorts of boys. Twinks, bears, chubby boys, tops, power bottoms, leather boys, dancer boys, you name it. Just never anyone thinner than Brochan. That seems to be the one and only rule.

         When they arrive, he is cheery and welcoming like a gender fluid Lucille Ball, sailing about the kitchen, his hair blowing behind him like a fraying magic carpet.

         “I have wine, vodka, beer, and whiskey,” Brochan smiles, pointing to the wine rack. “Whatever you want. Make yourself at home, gorgeous,” he says, whether they are gorgeous or not, whether this is a home or not.

         I’m usually sitting on the couch writing papers or studying when the boys arrive. I’ve just begun pursuing my master’s degree in Social Work. My first class is called Human Behavior and Social Environment. Just a bunch of reading about various theories and approaches. The goal is to build a foundation for understanding and assessing human behavior in all sorts of social contexts. The most common social context in my current environment is a one-night-stand meeting in my kitchen.

         The boys introduce themselves to me. Some shake my hand, some just give a head nod, but they all look back and forth between Brochan and I, as if to silently assess whether I’m their competition or not. I nod yes, that I am, but I doubt any of them get the message.

         “Oh, that’s just Myles. He’s my roommate,” Brochan says with a wave of his hand, winking at me. I repeatedly clench and unclench my jaw.

         Brochan and the boy of the night usually drink in the kitchen until they’ve forgotten I’m within earshot. I think he has to get drunk to fuck them. To lose control. Before the alcohol dulls their anxieties, the visitors try to act casual, but they shift restlessly on their stools, eyeing me every now and then. I flip through my textbook in search of answers, then settle for getting drunk and ripping out the pages, burning them on the front porch, where I tap my feet to the rhythm of the dancing flames.

         When I return, I scarf down some appetite suppressants and turn the TV up to 55 to drown out the sounds of human flesh colliding upstairs.

         In these moments, I am convinced that I’ve never hated anyone more.

 

8.

         When the boys don’t stay over, Brochan crawls into bed with me and shivers under the covers. His body is cold as death. He never says anything, just puts in a mouth guard so he doesn’t grind his teeth in his sleep, only he doesn’t ever sleep. At least not for very long. Every time I think he’s fallen asleep, he begins to whimper like a beaten puppy and wakes himself up.

         I want to peel my skin apart and wrap my bones around him. It’s sad and pathetic and not unlike the cheesy love ballads I tend to ridicule, but I don’t give a fuck. His midnight visits are the refrain that hold our world together.

 

7.

         At the office Brochan and I message back and forth on Google chat. When he’s feeling particularly depressed, he asks me how I am sitting, how my body is positioned in space: "Are you slouched? Is your spine tall? Are your legs crossed at the knee? Do your arms feel heavy? What do you see? Are your feet flat on the floor? Can you feel the earth rumbling?"

         It’s our way of talking about the big things without actually talking about the big things. It lets me know that he’s craving connection. But he soon changes the subject to something lighter, so quickly that I almost think his spatial questions were a mirage. I have to scroll back up to remind myself that they were real, that he considers my body at all.

         I tell him that I feel like the scarecrow my parents set out on our porch every Halloween. It wasn’t really a scarecrow at all. We had no crops to protect and it was just clothes stuffed with newspaper, slumped on our dusty black bench. Birds used to sit on its head. I imagined them laughing maniacally at the prospect of him scaring them away.

         “So you don’t feel real?” he writes back.

         “I feel like a fraud,” I reply.

         “I know,” he says, and I don’t understand if he means he knows I’m a fraud or knows I feel that way. I don’t ask for clarification.

 

6.

         In the beginning the revolving door of boys is all fun and games, butt plugs and anal beads and other toys I’ve never used. Brochan struts down the stairs the morning after, shoulders back, mouth formed in a perfect smirk. He stares at me, wild-eyed as if he’s just raided a village, willing me to ask for details. Sometimes I relent.

         “So? How was it?” I say, clearing my throat.

         “So good,” he grins, beginning to pace in the kitchen. “Steven is a total freak. I wasn’t expecting it at all. He kinda looks like he has a stick up his ass, don’t you think?”

         “I guess,” I say into my coffee, trying to mask my jealousy. Wanting to ask if that looks different than a butt plug up the ass.

         “I was feeling more like a woman last night so when he went down on me, I closed my eyes and pretended he was licking my clit instead. I came like a fucking fire hose.” 

         “Oh?” I take a deep breath. He can be a lot to handle. Sometimes it feels like the room is filled to capacity with Brochans and I can’t find the fire exit.

         “Yeah, it was so powerful. I realized I can be whoever I wanna be,” he says, half-shrugging in a satisfied way. I want him to want to be whatever version of Brochan eats brownies and gives me a chance.

         But just like every one of Brochan’s endeavors, the euphoria of his one-night-stands wear off rather quickly. The morning after he begins to look empty, as if the boys spent all night draining his battery so they could charge their own hearts.

         He slumps down the stairs, limbs heavy with emotional anchors. He’s so thin I can almost see through him to the vibrant trees swaying in the backyard. I’m sitting at the kitchen counter drinking an Irish coffee and scrolling through my phone. I can no longer muster the energy to ask how his night was and that’s okay, because something tells me he doesn’t want to share.

         “I wanna be beautiful, Myles. Beautiful like…” Brochan looks upward at the movie screen in his head, deliberating. “Rose in Titanic,” he says decidedly, looking back at me then popping a fat-burner and chasing it with a Monster energy drink. He fidgets, plucks his newly-grown forearm hairs out one by one. They’re there to keep him warm. I wonder if he knows that.

         I stifle a laugh, imagining him in white gloves and a wide-brimmed lavender hat prancing around, hand-in-hand with young Leo, clearly too gay to function. I know that he doesn’t want to joke right now. There’s a terror in his eyes.

         “What do you mean?” I ask, instead of telling him that he already is beautiful. His pupils are so dilated they look like tunnels without any light at the end of them. Partially from the stimulants, partially from his arousal at the idea of validation. I know that when he stares at me, he isn’t seeing me — he is seeing his future self, pretty and loved like a doll.

         “I want to be so beautiful men can’t look away. What I mean is, I want them to see through my skin and bones down to my marrow. Babe, I want them to worship me for who I am. Do you know what I mean?”

         He doesn’t wait for my response. He reaches into the kitchen drawer, pulls out the cigarettes and lighter, and goes out back to smoke and watch the leaves fall, free from the constraints of their branches. He shifts his weight back and forth, running his free hand through his hair like he’s trying to remove the top of his scalp.

         I think Brochan is trying to fuck every boy in the world. Then and only then will he believe he is beautiful. Then, maybe he will finally be able to get some rest.

 

5. 

         When I get home from work, Brochan isn’t standing at the island where he usually is. There’s an empty bottle of Pinot Noir on the countertop. I call his name a few times and he doesn’t respond. Fuck, this is it. I’m gonna find him dead and it’ll be all my fault for not intervening. You know when someone isn’t okay. It’s in everything they do, everything they say.

         I try to slow my breathing as I go upstairs. I’m sure he’s fine. He’s just changing his clothes. Or taking a nap. Yes, he does that sometimes, I nod like the fucking bobblehead that I am. The newspaper-stuffed man.

         I pause at the top of the stairs, steadying myself with the railing. Brochan’s bedroom door is open and I can see him examining his shirtless body in front of his full-length mirror. He turns in circles, grabbing the skin around his hips and stomach. It’s just skin, that’s all it is. Extra skin like a puppy who has a lot of growing to do. It sags off his bones like someone three times his age. His legs are twigs in his baggy boxer briefs. I don’t know how they support him. He sniffles and it takes me a few moments to realize he’s crying. Softly, like a child trying to fight back tears on the playground.

         I want to call off the competition, tell him I’ve lost, now just eat, but it seems trite. It isn’t about the competition and it never was. The mirror is a funhouse mirror, distorting his reflection in unimaginable ways.

         He looks sadder than a single ornament on a Christmas tree.

         I want to help him but I don’t know what to say. I don’t think the words have been invented yet. Maybe I could ask him how his body is positioned in space so he knows that I see him. Disappearing, he would have to say.

         I slowly walk backwards down the stairs then open the front door and slam it shut.

         “Brochan!” I call, much louder than before. I clink bottles, open and close the fridge, make my presence known.

         He comes down the stairs in boxer briefs and a shirt that says, “Stop Making Imbeciles Famous” with a picture of an eight-headed monster, each head a picture of a different Kardashian/Jenner. He rubs his eyes and paints a smile across his face. I imagine God, or whoever, pinning him down and painting a Joker mask on his face.

         “Hey, babe. How was your day?”

         “Fine, work was fine.”

         I feel numb and outside of myself.

         “Good. So listen, Steven’s gonna be here soon. Wanna come up and talk to me in the bathroom while I shower?” He phrases this like a question but we both know that it isn’t.

         “Sure, yeah,” I say, following him to the bathroom.

         I can see Brochan’s naked body as he showers. When I moved in I asked him if he would grab us a shower curtain while he was at Walmart and he came home with a sanguine-colored shower liner. I thanked him, never teaching him the difference between the two. At the time I thought it was funny, but now I wish there was a brick wall between me and his skeletal form.

         He tells me about his day, chattering a mile a minute. The Romanian office manager turned the air conditioner up when he said he was cold because in Romanian “cald” means “hot.” He ordered some DVDs and books on Amazon. He read an article about how you’re not supposed to hug your dog because it makes them feel threatened. He came home over lunch and put an egg white and coffee mask on his jowls to reduce bloating. He wondered if fish who are caught and released are traumatized after. “They should have a support group,” he says.

         I wonder how many fat-burners he’s taken today. I’m surprised his heart hasn’t said, “fuck this” and failed on him. I try to stare at the towel rack, the spider web in the upper corner of the bathroom, the cat’s litter box, anywhere that isn’t Brochan, but curiosity gets the best of me. He’s shaving his pubes in preparation for Steven. I’m a dick for feeling jealous when there are far more serious things to worry about.

         I know something is wrong with him. And not just “wrong” like, “hey you should take a mental health day wrong,” and more like “you need rehab wrong” or “your life is in danger wrong.” But I’m young and my judgment is clouded by infatuation. Have you ever had the knowledge that there is more to feel but don’t know how to access it? I feel bloated with emotions, suffocating from the inside out.

         Perhaps my fatal flaw is that I think of Brochan as immortal. Nothing serious could ever happen to him, I am convinced. He’s everlasting, like you could keep pulling his heartstrings out through his mouth and you’d never reach the end. Only there must be an end, and I’m not equipped to find out what happens when I reach it.

 

4.

         I wake to Brochan crawling into bed with me. He snuggles up next to me and whispers in my ear.

         “Wake up, let’s go out,” he purrs.

         “Huh? What time is it?” I croak.

         “It’s only 12:30. We can still make it out for a few drinks.”

         He grabs my shoulders and shakes them lightly even though I’m already awake, then tugs on my arm until I relent and get out of bed of my own accord, grabbing my glasses off of the nightstand. I don’t wear them that often because I think they make me look like a librarian but Brochan is rushing me so I slip into some jeans and a hoodie and mess up my hair so that it looks like sexy bed-head instead of actual bed-head. We leave the house and walk to the closest bar, a shitty dive bar that all the locals frequent. Brochan shivers in the brisk October air. He’s wearing at least four layers. A t-shirt, a long-sleeved shirt, a sweatshirt, and a North Face jacket. His hair is pulled back into a loose bun. People call it a “man-bun,” but he is thousands of men and women stuffed in one person. I see that now more than ever.

         Brochan orders a gin on the rocks for himself and a whiskey neat for me then gives the bartender his card to keep the tab open. He always pays when we go out.

         “To our diet!” says Brochan, holding up his glass. The bartender looks alarmed but doesn’t say anything. I don’t hold my glass up to his. He raises his eyebrows and shrugs as if to say, “Suit yourself,” then chugs his glass. I feel shaky so I grab my glass with both hands and pour the whiskey down my throat. I almost vomit it back up but manage to force it down, swallowing hard.

         “Sometimes I feel fucking invisible, man,” he says, digging around in his pocket. He pulls out a fat-burner and swallows it dry. I can almost see his heart threatening to break down his sternum like a criminal would plow through the door during a home invasion.

         “Like I could just disappear and no one would know the difference.”

         “I would,” I whisper.

         “That's not what I mean.”

         I signal to the bartender that I’d like another round.

         “I like to think there was a time when people gave a shit about each other, but lately I feel like no one cares for one another anymore. It makes me wanna claw my skin off.”

         I don’t respond. It feels impossible to. I could say, I feel that way too. I could say, that’s the reason I never have a birthday party. I could say a lot of things.

         For class, someone posted something stirring on our online discussion board. It left me feeling shaky. The student wrote that in the world of psychology, passivity is hardly studied. Passivity shouldn’t be confused with passive qualities, such as shyness or timidity. Rather, it compels people to wait in a suspended state. Like a heart kept in a solution, a passive person can only wait for someone outside of themselves to rescue them.

         We have a few more drinks in silence and listen to the gentle hum of the bar. I’m convinced that any second a wormhole to another universe will appear, maybe in my drink, maybe in Brochan’s eyes, maybe in the right corner pocket of the pool table at which the old, disgruntled men are arguing, and I can just crawl through it like a playground tunnel. But no such escape route reveals itself before closing time.

         Brochan loops his arm through the crook of my elbow on the walk home. I don’t know if he does this as a warm gesture or simply because he needs help holding his body up. He staggers a bit, giggling quietly. The sky is black and blue like it’d been in a bar fight two nights prior. The moon is framed by nearby clouds. I want to interrogate the moon, ask it all of the things I’m afraid to ask the sun. Like, why am I addicted to the unavailable? And why doesn’t anyone want to be who they are?

         When we get home, we flop down onto the couch and I turn on a serial killer documentary to keep me company. I’m wired and on edge. Brochan puts his head on a pillow and lays his legs across my lap. I put my hand up his pant leg and run my hands along his smooth calves. He says he waxes his legs, not because he dislikes hair but because he likes the pain.

         “I love serial killer documentaries,” he says, fading.

         “Me too.”

         “The monsters get off on hiding in plain sight. I’m just the opposite.”

         Now it’s his head’s turn to bobble on his neck.

         “How so?”

         “I’m an angel who gets off on hiding in plain sight,” he cackles. I can’t tell if it’s a joke or not, but something tells me he means it, that he wants someone to see his goodness.

         Everyone thinks they’re so edgy for being into serial killer documentaries. Just once I’d like someone to consider themselves edgy for wanting to go home with the quiet boy. Or in this case, go to bed with the quiet boy, since we are already home.

 

3.

         When all the boys are busy or Brochan grows tired of giving himself away or both, he plops down on the couch next to me and rubs the back of his neck like my grandma used to when she was stressed, only it's sad and troublesome when he does it instead of attention-seeking. When I ask what’s wrong, he acts confused, like he’s not even there. His face is gaunt and grayish and he’s hunched over like a sickly gargoyle. 

         He chews on Flavor Blasted Goldfish and then spits them out in a plastic cup as if they’re sunflower seed shells. I pretend not to notice. 

         I’m dying to meet his makers, to see where he comes from, but I’ve never even heard him talk to a parent on the phone, let alone allow one to visit. For all I know, he was grown in a petri dish. There’s so many gaps I’ll never fill in.

         “What you doing?” Brochan asks one night, getting up to throw out the overflowing plastic cup.

         “Reading a chapter for school.”

         “What’s it about?”

         “Um, a theory called the Strengths-Based Perspective. It’s all about empowering individuals, instead of treating them like something is wrong with them,” I say.

         “Do you need a drink?” he asks, opening the fridge. I nod and he grabs me a beer, pours himself a vodka.

         “Keep going,” he nods when he sits back down. I take a long gulp of my beer. I was never much of a drinker before living with him, but he’s shown me how appealing it can be to turn your brain off.

         “I don’t know. It’s boring.”

         “No it’s not,” says Brochan. He finishes off his vodka in one gulp and looks at me, his teeth chattering. He pulls a blanket over his torso and hugs himself.

         “You basically establish what the person’s strengths are and collaborate with them to create some achievable goals.”

         “What do you take away from that?”

         I think about that for a few seconds. It had never occurred to me that could have a takeaway. I too often take things as they are without considering the rest of the story. I think of my father, my tender yet vicious father. The man who wiped away my tears while singing me folk songs then got drunk and berated me for not being the man he always wanted to be. The man who didn’t know who he was so he took it out on the child born with his face. He lived inside the wormhole between his two personal universes, unable to choose. 

         I have both spat and laid flowers on his grave. I’d like to press my ear to the ground and listen for his tears. I’d like to ask him how his decaying body is positioned in the ground.

         “I think it all boils down to purpose,” I say. “Everyone needs one. Without a purpose, people fall apart.”

         He hesitates for a moment then lays his head down in my lap. I sigh, stroking his frizzy hair.

         “What if the best people are the ones on the verge of falling apart?” Brochan asks.

         “What if that’s just a shit excuse to avoid happiness?”

         “Why would anyone wanna do a thing like that?”

         “Don’t you know, Brochan?”

         “Know what?” he whispers.

         “There’s nothing more terrifying than being happy, because then you can lose it.”

         Brochan sits up and looks at me. His face is four, maybe five inches from mine. His breathing is shallow, like he’s barely alive. His breath smells like cheesy nail polish remover.

         “You’re so smart yet so dumb. You know that, babe?”

         “Why do you say that?”

         Brochan opens his mouth as if he’s going to respond truthfully, then closes it. He smirks then shakes his head.

         “Forget it, babe.”

         Does Brochan have a purpose? And if so, what is it?

         I’ve never had a friend who needed real help before. I’ve worked with kids with mental health problems, but they were different. Someone else diagnosed them, then told me what to do. And an idiot could have recognized that their behaviors weren’t normal or appropriate. They beat the fuck out of each other, cut themselves, heard voices, had severe mood disturbances. I was paid to tolerate them kicking and biting me. It’s different when the person gets up with the sun and goes to work on time every day, not only showing up but working diligently. It’s hard to sit that person down and say, “hey, I think you’ve got a problem.”

 

2.

         I wake up on October 12th to the sound of Brochan vomiting in the bathroom then brushing his teeth. Once he’s done, he flushes, then calls for me to join him.

         “Today’s the day,” he says, then moves aside for me to step on the scale.

         I’m 160, having gained 5 pounds since moving in. I have no doubt beer is the culprit.

         Brochan is down to 90 pounds. He steps off, shakes his fists in the air victoriously. I’m shaking uncontrollably and I’m so dizzy I fear I might collapse.

         “You didn’t need to lose any weight,” I breathe, sitting down on the toilet.

         “It’s not about weight loss. It’s about seeing how far you can push yourself, how far you can push fate.”

         “It’s about control,” I counter and before I realize it, he grabs the back of my neck like he’s scruffing an animal and pulls my head upward to look him in the eyes.

         “Fuck. Off.”

         He says it slowly and deliberately, savoring the words. I can tell that he wants them to hurt. I stare back at him, my face on fire.

         He squats down in front of me and leans towards me. I think he’s going to spit on me or bite me or start speaking in tongues. Anything but kiss me.

         The kiss is a gentle kiss, barely-there lips, but there all the same. He exhales sharply through his nose, fogging up my glasses, then pulls back.   

 

1.

         Brochan makes eggs and bacon and I think that maybe everything will be okay, he’ll return to eating now that he’s won. But then he only makes one plate and places it front of me, smiling sheepishly. He watches me eat so intently you’d think it was a spectator sport. 

         We go to work and carry on our day as if nothing has happened, as if he hadn’t been responsible for tilting my world off its axis.

         When I message him on Google chat to ask what he sees, he doesn’t respond.

         He doesn’t come home after work. At 10 PM, I text him asking where he is. No answer.

         I call him a dozen times and it goes straight to voicemail each time.

         I put on another serial killer documentary and watch Ted Bundy charm girls to death.

         I shake a bottle of fat burning pills like a bag of treats, hoping he comes running.

         I drink half a bottle of gin.

         I stay up all night, picking apart every moment that led up to that kiss.

         He doesn’t come home the next day, doesn’t show up for work.

         Nor the day after nor the day after.

         What I’m trying to say is, I'll never see or hear from Brochan again.

         And I feel his absence, everywhere.


Gay Shame

Gay Shame

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The Booty Patrol