My Four Best Friends
by Mike Young
My first best friend worked in a video store. He had cokebottle glasses, but his eyes were fine, and one girl I knew said they were delicious. He liked writing poetry about unusual things. Big unusual things. Like his ex-girlfriend. He still had the dreadlocks she'd inspired. When they broke up, he got flustered, because someone told him he'd go bald if he cut them off. We always talked about our rotten girlfriends. He had more than I did, and actually I had none, so I listened carefully.
We'd been best friends since we learned to ride bicycles under the bridge. We would swerve to avoid musty bums and busted oranges. We would ride to the creek; he sneered how this town sucked. We would ditch class with our Kool-Aid punch: first Kool-Aid and Sprite, later Kool-Aid and rum. First, we played paratroopers in the grass hunting Russians. Later, we would hush our deeper concerns and speak in code. Like what if we were insects, what if we lived in a dollhouse and God was a little girl. Sometimes I brushed his hand for no reason, or no reason I told him.
He was killed last week on that bridge, in a tangle of car horns and popped open stars.
My second best friend didn't teach me how to play guitar. But he showed me how to get a jangly sound from his amp. His parents always bought him the shiniest stuff. They worried he hated them. On New Years Eve, I broke my umbrella's tip in the door of his expensive car. He'd been insisting we smoke pot and drink with his band, and I had mumbled into my fist that maybe we could go put on some Nick Drake records and align them with the rain.
He said that's cool when I wouldn't do mushrooms, but kept talking about how his drummer's so funny when he's stoned, pissing on snow and saying it glows a little like art.
Usually, I would come over on drowsy Sundays. We would sit on coat piles and random trumpet cases. Sometimes his drummer would be there, tripping out and swimming to Sigur Rós. They liked that band and I didn't.
Last week, I found out that my second best friend is moving to L.A with his band. I didn't find out from him.
My third best friend knew about haircuts. He knew before everyone when to get sideburns, then bleach everything, then get the fauxhawk. He didn't speak French or really know much of anything, but he pronounced fauxhawk well. Some guys said it was creepy he had Josh Harnett posters all over his ceiling, but I stuck up for him, because I knew he wanted to act and they were just jealous because he looked like Josh Harnett and they knew it. And he knew it. And all their girlfriends knew it.
He caught me last week at his party making out with the one girl that made him clammy. He gritted his teeth and started screaming I'm the only that takes you anywhere, you fucking loser. I couldn't tell him why I made out with her. I didn't know. Like when I told my sister she was getting a basketball for her tenth birthday. I wanted a basketball so bad, and I was so jittery because I thought she'd be sharing. Why? I don't know. After that, my parents hid their plans from me.
And now, instead of talking to me, my third best friend will cross the street or brush off his Swiss leather shoes. Now his eyes on me are like doughnuts: hollow and greasy.
My fourth best friend I first met in third grade when he passed out oranges. They were too bitter and yellow, and we all laughed at him. I felt proud and inside the circle because we'd found someone I was allowed to laugh at. Later I felt sick and sat next to him on the bus. He came over to my house once. We both liked action figures. He liked the big ones with the perfectly circular stomach muscles. My parents wouldn't let me go to his house.
Yesterday in PE, I saw him for the first time in years. He said he'd gone to juvenile hall for stealing videos. He asked if I would walk somewhere with him. We ditched and cut through all the nasty houses, the ones where the drug dealers and lowlifes lived. Where my parents said strollers were stuffed with excuses for food stamps. He had to stop in one house to get a coat. He kept shaping his mouth to speak then closing it into a cough.
We walked to the edge of town. In the Dairy Queen parking lot, he absentmindedly showed me how to break into a car. Our combined adrenaline chewed away my fear. He was sweating, shimmering. I felt like I could shed last week's bruises and feed them into his glow, where they would burn down to fluff. We drove over the bridge, and when he leaned in to kiss me, I slackened. Cars whipped past us, some people glancing. If they'll stop to watch a car wreck, will they stop to watch a rescue?
About the author:
Mike Young divides his time among friends, enemies and concentrated orange juice in Ashland, OR. His short fiction has appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, Prose Ax, and Word Riot. He co-edits NOÖ Journal, a free literary / political print journal in Northern California.