“I don’t want to go,” I say. “I don’t know him.”
“It’ll be fine,” Dad says. “He doesn’t have many friends, he could use it. I’m sure you’ll have a good time.” He drops me off.
Inside the house is green and brown. Dark. His dad shows me to his room, then disappears. The kid sits on his bottom bunk, watching a small TV. He has shoulder-length blond hair and a blank expression. Whatever it is, he’s seen it before.
“Hey,” I say.
“Hey,” he says. He looks back to the screen. I set down my bag. I look around. It is nothing like my room. There is a dresser, desk, bed, and TV. A very green oval rug lies in the center of his carpeted floor. There are no remnants of a childhood. I’m in the fourth grade and he looks to be a few years older than me, and he seems to be the oldest person I’ve ever met.
“Hungry?” he asks.
“Sure,” I say. From somewhere behind him he produces a box of Ritz and a can of bacon flavored Eazy-Cheeze. And a two-liter of Mountain Dew. I sit down next to him on the bed.
I eat. I drink. I spray cheese and bacon product onto crackers and stuff my face.
And I watch.
Screaming. Running. Catching. Killing. I am mesmerized. And afraid. And confused.
“Your dad lets you watch this stuff?” I say. “And eat this stuff?” as I chew and chew.
“Yep,” he says.
“What’s he doing?” I say.
“Working.” He takes the can from me and squirts it into his mouth. My dad told me that his dad writes for the local paper. Sports stuff.
“Can I try that?” I say, indicating the can.
“You can, but you shouldn’t. You’re fucking fat.” He hands me the can. He looks back to the TV. I think I see a breast. I know I see blood. I look at the cheese in my hand. I’m fucking fat.
I set it down.
“Shit,” he says, but not looking at me – looking out his doorway, “what I mean is, I can eat like this because I do stuff, I’m a boxer. You probably don’t do much, so it isn’t a good idea.”
“You’re a boxer?” I say.
“Well, trying to be. I run four miles every morning. Bag-work after school.”
My face feels hot. My stomach gurgles from the soda and bacon. I watch the screen flash.
I watch a giant of a man hang a girl from a meat hook, pushing her onto it, until it comes out through her front.
All over the kid’s green oval rug. It fizzes out my nose and mouth in fits and starts, between breaths. It splashes out orange and bubbly. I hear screaming. From the TV.
“Jesus,” the kid says.
When I stop retching I say, “Sorry.” I wipe my mouth on my arm.
“You should go,” he says. I look at him. He’s watching the movie. “Because you’re sick. The phone is at the bottom of the stairs. Call your dad.”
“Okay,” I say.
I go downstairs and look around. The living room is dark and I can see his dad sitting in his office in the next room, his back to me. I think he’s typing because his shoulders are bouncing softly. Like he’s hunting and pecking. Then I hear small sobs. I pick up the phone.
“Dad?” I say.
“Hey, everything okay?” he says.
I stare at the back of his dad. “It’s weird here. Can I come home?”
Time passes. “It’s late,” my dad says. “Why don’t you just go to bed?”
Upstairs, he hasn’t moved. The vomit is fizzed out. “What did he say?” he asks.
“That I should just go to bed.” My mouth tastes sour. I feel like crying.
“There’s a towel over there,” he says, nodding towards the space behind his door. I pick it up and begin pushing my puke into a pile in the center of the oval. I’m starting to sweat.
“Yeah, I figured he’d leave you here. It was worth a try,” he says.
The TV screams. I start enveloping the throw-up into the folds of the towel, whittling away at the orange pile until I’m pressing the rug smooth. Wet, but not gross. The towel is warm and heavy.
“Where should I put this?” I say.
“Where you found it,” he says. I put it back behind the door. I sit back down on the bed, trying not to look at the TV.
“Downstairs, your dad looks like he’s crying,” I say. The kid doesn’t move, but everything about him hardens.
“You’re retarded,” he says. “Didn’t your dad tell you? My mom’s dead.”
More screaming. Running.
“That’s why you’re here,” he says. “That’s why my dad is drunk in his office. It’s why your dad won’t come get you. Because everybody feels bad for the kid with the dead mom.”
I don’t understand. I thought we were supposed to sneak goodies and stay up too late. I don’t know what’s happening. He’s looking at the TV. I’m looking at the wet spot I left on the rug and feel like I might add some more to it.
He leans forward and presses rewind. I watch kids run backwards, turn from bloody to clean. Some come back to life, resurrected. He presses play. A giant of a man pushes a girl onto a meat hook. I hear gurgling. From the TV, and again from my guts. My eyes are wet and I feel angry and embarrassed.
“Do you want to go?” he says.
I am holding my stomach. I nod. He walks across the puke stain and out his door. I wait. When he comes back he’s still nonchalant about my being there, but his face is red like mine, red like puking or crying. “Your dad will be here in a few,” he says.
He sits back on his bunk, squirts cheese onto a cracker, and eats it with smacking bites. I wait by the door to listen for my dad. When I finally hear him, I pick up my bag and say goodbye.
“Sorry about the rug,” I say.
“Later,” the kid says. “Sorry I called you fat.” He leans forward and presses rewind.