Sixteen

Part One: Thanatos


Chapter One

To Ollie's


Over the weekend my mom and I moved to a new town and rented a trailer at the weedy end of Riverside Estates. It was a junky trailer, small and green, that looked like it had been suffering in the same spot for decades. A river was just across the road from it, narrow and muddy, and we didn’t know the name of it, so we called it the Nile. “Isn’t that in South America?” my mom said. “Africa,” I said, and went to unpack. I carried my toothbrush, toothpaste, razor, and comb to the tiny bathroom and put everything in the tiny medicine cabinet. Tampons under the sink, and I was done. Mom had found her wine by then and was sitting at the kitchen table drinking from a water glass. I sat with her and took a few sips. “Irene,” she said, but nothing else. She didn’t think sixteen was old enough to drink, but we had come a long way, and she was too tired to argue. Instead, she lit a cigarette and blew a thin stream of smoke toward the ceiling. “What do you think of the new digs?” she said.

“Reminds me of paradise,” I said. “About as close as you can get.”

We put our bare feet up on the third chair, sipped wine, and listened to kids playing next door, someone nearby swearing at their busted car, and over everything the seductive purl of the Nile.

#

Monday morning I hiked up the hill to my new high school, wandered the halls until I found the right room, and took a seat just before the bell rang. Eight o’clock, Math class. All around me an annoyance of kids — bright clothes, stylish hair, easy, uncomplicated lives — but next to me, Nick Waters, a not-so-clean kid in jeans and t-shirt. He was hunched over a pad of paper, drawing intricate designs with a black pen. His hands were dirty, his face was smudged, and then I saw a red mark on his neck. It was still raw, and it looked like it curved around his throat. I thought, Holy shit, another fucked up kid with a death wish! After that, I couldn't take my eyes off him. I watched, he drew. Nothing recognizable, just little black designs, a thousand of them. Over and over, incredibly repetitious, and as the hour ticked away his sheet of paper turned darker and ever more intricate. The teacher went on about equations of some kind — I had no idea, just words flying through the ether like pancakes — but Nick Waters was in his own little world. Finally he raised his head and glanced my way. He seemed disturbed that I was there — me, the new girl who had invaded his space — but then he saw the scars on my wrist. That got him excited — I saw it in his eyes as he looked right at me. Like he was thinking, Holy shit, another fucked up kid with a death wish! He turned to the front, put his pen down, folded his arms like he was thinking, then looked at my wrist again, consternation on his face. A minute later he raised his finger to get the teacher's attention, and walked out, to the bathroom I presumed. A skinny kid with black hair. His clothes were clean but he wasn't. Autistic, I guessed, but we were in high school math. Intriguing, all right, especially with that rope burn. I wondered if he was mute, but mostly I wondered why he wanted to kill himself. I leaned to the side to get a better view of his drawing. Totally abstract, the kind of thing someone would draw if they were thinking black thoughts but wanted to keep them secret. I was still leaning over when he came back. We locked eyes, and for a second it was just us, me and Nick Waters.

Son of night and darkness, twin of sleep.

#

In the world of black lines and meaningless shapes, there is nothing but endless ink. Until a new girl appears. Skinny, black t-shirt, black hair, she sat right next to me. Nothing to look at until I saw her scars. She wasn’t even hiding them, just there for anyone to see, and I thought, What the hell, is this, the suicide section? Nosey, too, couldn’t keep her eyes off my doodle, rubbernecking the whole hour, not paying any attention to Smith, not that it would have mattered. Math, so what? That’s how I saw it. Actually, I didn’t see it. I doodled, and it was a pretty good one, only a little light showing through here and there, nice designs signifying nothing. But she loved it, the weird new girl with the crooked tooth. I noticed such things, probably because of my sister. She had one like that, a corner tooth turned just a bit. I looked at her wrist again, saw that she had cut crossways. She didn’t want to die. She wanted to bleed, she wanted sympathy. She probably got it, too, anyone would with cuts like that. Not usually fatal, but probably hurt like hell and made a good showing of blood. They weren’t new — childhood suicide attempt — so maybe she got over it. I wasn’t over it. I was determined. I had a plan for Sunday. But Math class droned on, I drew, she watched, until everybody began to gather their books. The bell must have rung while I was finishing up the last corner with filigrees.

Before I could escape, Smith called me to the front. I stood beside his desk, looking at about anything but him, and the new girl behind me took a long time pretending to pack up her things. Nosey, she wanted to hear. Smith told me I had to pay attention and stop that incessant drawing. “I know it’s been tough on you,“ he said in a low voice, “but you’ve got to get on with your life.”

“I don’t want to talk about it right now.”

“I know you don’t, but if — Nick, what's that on your neck?“

“Just a rash. Sometimes I get them."

"From what, shaving?"

I didn't answer him. It was none of his business.

"Are you still seeing the counselor?” Smith said.

“Not lately.“

“Well, you need to. Go right now — he’ll make time for you. Just tell him that — ”

I walked out, the new girl right behind me as I hurried toward the stairs at the end of the hall. “Are you going to see the counselor?” she said. “I went a few times at my old school, but I lied about everything and they finally gave up, said, ‘Whatever, it’s your life.’” I kept walking, hurrying because it was an escape. “Your artwork reminds me of Jackson Pollock,” she said, but I ignored her. Jackson Pollock, nobody I knew. “This is kind of a weird school," she said. "It's my first day, and — I don’t know. I bet that’s not a rash ” I stopped at the exit, leaned against the door, and peered out the window, looking for teachers, principals, cops, anyone who would yell at me to get back inside. "Are you leaving?" she said. "It's only nine o'clock." I pushed the door open a crack to see if anyone was there. “I’m going to Ollie’s,” I said. “Nobody cares what time it is at Ollie’s.”

“I’d go, too,” she said. “I mean, if it’s all right.” We locked eyes as we considered it, and a second later pushed through the door and ran like animals across the school grounds, through a stand of trees, and came out on the other side on the sidewalk to town. We were going to Ollie's, the place for thugs, bums, whack jobs, addicts, pushers, pimps, dropouts, derelicts, and suicidal misfits — the detritus of society. The worst place in town, a place for people like us.

#

Copyright 2018 by Philip Tate