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We pass a cigarette back and forth in the shade of the highway bridge, sheltered from the L.A. glare. His forearms are dusted with pale golden hairs.
We call each other Man. We call each other Dude.
He takes a drag, pinching the cigarette between thumb and forefinger. He talks languidly about girls, about buying some older guy’s third-hand piece-of-shit motorcycle, and then about girls again.
Cars whiz by, their tires perilously close to the toes of our sneakers. It isn’t safe, sitting here so close to the road, on this strip of crackled concrete, but
there aren’t many places for us to go, unobserved and still too young to drive.
I say something about girls, myself. I have no idea what, exactly, I’ve said, but I know it’s off kilter. Suddenly—it seems sudden, to me—there’s a new language, one in which I am not quite fluent.
“Uh-huh,” he murmurs.
His eyes are dark and always wide open, as if everything, everything in the world, is surprising to him, but he’s too suave to mention it.
I tell him about a dream I’ve had: a fire in a tree, wolves running.
He nods patiently. I know nobody wants to hear about anyone else’s dreams, even if they’ve survived sixth grade together. But I’m trying to tell him something, in a code so personal there’s no worry that he’ll understand.
“They could have been after me,” I add. “Or they could have been escaping from me, I couldn’t tell.”
“Scary shit, man,” he says, handing me the final nub of the cigarette. His Inx t-shirt, passed down to him by his legendary older brother, is peppered with holes. There’s a dime-sized one centered over his heart.
“Dude, I live for scary shit,” I say. We both know that that isn’t even remotely true.
He nods again, pokes at the modest little hole with a fingertip. He has no idea.
He says, “This old shirt is disappearing on me.”
“It’s here for now, though,” I tell him, trying to be wised-up and philosophical, someone who can still command his attention.
“For now,” I add, doing my best to forestall myself as a small dancing figure, bows and pirouettes, all but lost in the landscape. Trying, as best I can, to tell him that I know, I do know, and that I’ll be as graceful as possible about it.
“Right.” He’s lost track of what it is we’re talking about, but doesn’t let on. I toss the cigarette butt into the ground with offhand force, hoping it’s a disillusioned, foreign-movie sort of gesture.
“I like to think I’m right,” I say. He nods agreeably. He starts talking about the motorcycle again. He turns sixteen in three weeks. He’s got savings from his after-school job scooping ice cream at Ben and Jerry’s in the mall.
I’m trying to listen, trying not to think too much about that curl of dampened hair.
He says, “I could at least get to Chicago on that bike, before it falls apart.”
I don’t know why he’d want to go to Chicago, beyond the fact that it’s somewhere else. He speaks often, lately, about being somewhere else.
“Or maybe even New York City,” I say. “Before the bike falls apart.”
“Right. Maybe even that far.”
He still respects our childhoods together. He is courtly, in his way. He’s possessed of a grudging kindness. He always has been.
“Who knows how far you could get on that thing.”
Cars speed by, leave snatches of music in their wake. Kiss the sky lingers for a moment, before it blows away.