He was angry, wretched, and lonely, this skinny kid with baggy clothes and too-long, shaggy hair. He could be seen, on days when he should have been sitting in a high school classroom, wandering down by the train tracks that coursed along the edge of town like a miserable steel snake. The boy would kick cans, stones, whatever got in the way of his feet. He felt an obligation to kick these things, to give them a good, hard, violent kick with his boot the way his father had once slammed him to the floor and kicked him so hard that he broke three of the boy’s ribs.
The boy never cried, at least not so that anyone could see, and so it did not count. He’d yank the eyes from his face with his bare, filthy hands before he would shed tears in front of another living soul.
''Men don’t cry'', his father once told him when the boy was ten years old, jerking his skinny arm nearly out of its socket. The boy had been crying quietly about the death of his grandmother. After this near-dislocation of his shoulder at his un-manly display of emotion, the boy learned to associate grief with a dull ache in his bones.
He knew that his arm had healed, but still, years after, whenever someone he knew or loved died, which they inevitably did, instead of tears there would come a throbbing scream of pain from his left shoulder and a bitter, metallic taste in the back of his throat.
The boy could only cry even to himself after his father was dead and buried beneath many feet of thick dirt, too many for him to drag his way out through. The boy had nightmares, though. Horrible nightmares that clawed at his soul like the sharp talons of a carrion bird. He dreamed of his father somehow returning from hell, hollow-eyed and gray, but with long, pointed fingernails and a mouthful of rusty screws instead of teeth when he appeared at the boy’s bedroom door.
He would stand there with an insane grin on his face, a furious, starving zombie. And in these dreams, the boy would be frozen in his bed, leaden, unable to move and unable to scream—but he wanted to! He wanted to scream and yell and kick and kick until he heard his father’s ribs crack the way he had heard his own crack inside him three years before.
In these nightmares, the pure, white, naked terror would blend with reddened, bloody rage. And then finally the boy would awaken, breathing and blinking and disoriented, freezing cold and tangled in his blankets, trying to will his heart to stop pounding in fear. Then at times he would try desperately to will it into silence completely, to simply stop it beating with the power of his own rage and fear and pain.
The boy stopped going to school, and on the rare occasions when he did attend, he was belligerent and horrible, purposely being disruptive because it eased something broken and bleeding in his soul. Usually, though, he would just wander through town, which looked like a gray and icy concrete underworld mess with no soft, kind places anywhere, just lost souls as bleak and hard as their surroundings milling about, vacant-eyed and hopeless.
He would find his way down to the train tracks, where they met a section of woods painted in muddy, depressing shades of green and brown. The boy would pull his jacket tighter around his thin shoulders in the cold, and let the biting wind kiss his face raw.
One day when he was walking in the freezing winds of late November, winds so cruel that every gust felt like a sheet of icy glass falling out of the sky, the boy’s legs stopped moving. Just stopped; ceased walking of their own accord, dissociated and separate from the rest of him. The boy turned his face up to the sky, which looked as dead and violently, achingly cold as his spirit felt.
He chomped his teeth down on his lip, because the boy knew intuitively somehow that he was going to cry. He had an irrational fear that if he did so, his father, though long buried and gone, would somehow win, be absolutely correct in his insulting of the boy, in calling him weak and useless. ''Men don’t cry, men don’t cry…’'
An ache in his shoulder, broken headstones in cemeteries, mouthfuls of rusted screws, darkness, cold, cold rooms, the sound of cracking ribs, train tracks that never ended, just ran for miles and miles into absolute frozen nowhere….
The boy was biting his lip so hard that blood was running down his face and painting the ground beneath him. This self-abuse did nothing to stop the tears, though. The crying came softly at first, tears formed and gently ran like a light sprinkling of holy water. Then they came quicker; some dam inside the boy was breaking apart, and the floods became impossible to hold back.
He stood, still immobilized, as pain, rage, sadness, grief, and memory rushed through him and out of his body. The boy tore at his hair, his skin. His shoulders shook with the force of his sobbing, and then his voice slowly began to form words as acid tears burned his face.
''I—I—I hate you…I hate you…I hate YOU…I HATE YOU, I HATE YOU!!!'' and for several terrible minutes of this mantra the boy did not know if he was speaking to his father or to himself, because he hated both so desperately.
He was holding chunks of his own long hair in his fingers; he’d ripped them out of his scalp somewhere in the course of his hysteria. The tears had nearly stopped. Repulsed, the boy threw the hair to the ground, where it lay beside the spilt blood from his lip. He turned and ran.
Along the way, for whatever reason, though most of it was a blur of gray, wind, and pounding feet on concrete, the boy noticed an abandoned building he’d never glimpsed before. He didn’t know what the empty, vacant shell had once housed, but for some reason, this hollow, dead skeleton of a building both intrigued and enraged him. Curiosity and anger propelled his feet home, but he knew he would be back.
There was a crack in reality somewhere, and the boy knew it. But so did Marcy. Marcy was the closest thing to a friend that the boy had. She was as skinny as a rail, with blonde hair that looked like dead grass. Her face was sharp and pale. Her eyes were a weak blue, the irises ringed in light gold; the lids were always painted in thick black eye makeup. Her fingernails were always a deep maroon.
Marcy didn’t look nearly as frightening as she hoped she did: she looked pitiful. She might have been beautiful, the potential certainly existed, hidden somewhere by years of pain and hunger and forced apathy. People always found themselves inexplicably wanting to cry looking at Marcy; she always evoked a kind of empathic, compassionate response. She just looked so sad.
Marcy loved the boy—as much as she could bring herself to love anyone. In class this Thursday, she sat dozing in the back of the room, dark eyelids lowered. The teacher was rambling tiredly about some novel. Everyone just wanted the bell to ring. Marcy wondered where the boy was today. Probably out by the train tracks. She wondered if she should go looking for him after school let out, or if she should just wait for him to find her.
When the bell screeched, the doors opened, and the young people flooded back out into the world. Marcy walked behind a group of senior girls in pink and lilac sweaters who were talking about bands and cheerleading practice, and she felt hate and bile and metallic sadness rising in her throat.
She pushed it all back into some far corner of her mind, though, and concentrated on the frozen sidewalk beneath her feet.
The boy didn’t come looking for her until later. Marcy was sitting on her fire escape, when he suddenly appeared below out of the thin gray air.
''Come on down,'' he called up to her. His voice sounded even grimmer and more tired than usual.
Marcy swung her legs over the side and climbed down until she just dangled a few feet off the ground.
''Catch me,'' she said, and let go. She landed in the boy’s thin arms.
''You’re lucky I move fast,'' he told her. She looked at his face. He looked paler than usual, and there was an ugly looking cut on his lip. She raised her hand to touch him, and he pulled back.
''What happened?'' she asked him.
''I don’t care,'' was the response. This would have to do for Marcy.
Then the boy asked her, ''How was prison today?'' Meaning school, of course.
''I don’t know,'' she told him. Her fingers twitched; she kept looking at that cut on his lip. She kept wanting to touch him.
''Did you sleep the whole day?'' he asked.
''I think,'' she replied.
They walked a bit together, the air wrapping the two in an icy blanket.
The boy looked at Marcy, at this sad young woman walking beside him. She looked thinner than usual, and her face was sharper and whiter than ever.
''How’s your stepdad?'' The boy asked her. He hoped this would translate as: Is your stepfather hurting you again?
''He’s an asshole, the same as always. I’m ok, though.''
This answer translated as, no, he hasn’t hurt me lately, just my mother and my sisters and my dog and anyone else who matters to me, even a little.
The boy reached his hand out and touched Marcy’s face on an impulse. She pulled back as if she’d been given a terrible electric shock. Then she was ok, but she stared at the boy in a searching sort of way, as he reached for her again.
She was sure the slight pressure of his fingertips on her face would leave a permanent mark, a brand. She felt as icy as she looked. Her pale skin felt like sleet. The boy pulled away then, and they continued to walk as if nothing had happened.
They were walking back the way the boy had run earlier. ''What happened to your lip, really?'' Marcy asked him.
''I bit it,'' answered the boy.
''That hard?'' asked Marcy.
''What made you?'' She was curious, however she was sure it had something to do with his father.
''I have no idea,'' he said. It would take longer to pry the truth from him about this.
The boy stopped walking and pointed. ''There.''
Marcy followed his finger. ''What?''
There was an abandoned building on the corner. ''What used to be there?'' the boy asked her.
''Fuck if I know,'' Marcy said. ''Who cares?''
''I care,'' said the boy. ''I don’t know why, but I care.''
The two walked past the building, the boy still staring at it, trying to work out in his mind why he was becoming so obsessed with this vacant shell.
''Are you going home tonight?'' The boy asked Marcy.
''Not if I can help it,'' she replied, her voice like a cracked sigh. ''Let me stay with you.''
''We won’t do anything….we can just sit around.''
They were back at the boy’s house. They were in his room; he was sitting on the bed, and Marcy was standing by the window, staring out.
''Can you see a future?'' she asked the boy. He had briefly closed his eyes.
''What?'' he asked, without opening them. He could feel where Marcy was in the room.
''Well, my aunt once told me that if you tried to look forward, into your own future, or into someone else’s, and there was nothing, only a blank space, then that person, or you, or whoever, will probably die young.''
''I never tried to see a future. I never try to see the present, the past. I don’t try to see anything.'' The boy’s eyes were still closed. He felt Marcy move closer; he felt her sitting on the bed next to him.
''Do you remember the first time you saw me?'' she wondered in a small voice.
''I can’t remember the first time I saw anything.'' His eyes were tightly closed. She lay down next to him.
''Why is it always so cold and gray?''
''Why do you ask so many questions?''
Marcy had her arms around him now. The boy could feel the last embers of the gray daylight dying out completely into a coal-black night.
''I don’t know.''
He could feel her breathing evenly. She was beginning to feel safe, he could tell. It took a few hours of his company, but she would always begin to feel safe, to thaw, if only for a little while.
Now it was his turn to ask her something.
''Do you love me?'' He said it like a whisper. The words were desperately light. He could feel them floating away, unable to cling to anything.
''As much as I’ve ever loved anything,'' Marcy said. ''I don’t have room in me for too much love. I don’t have much room in me for anything, because it’s so cold.'' She was murmuring now, falling into a lukewarm slumber with her arm across the boy’s chest.
''Do you love me?'' the words blurred as she fell asleep completely.
He was silent for several long minutes before answering '‘yes’' after he was certain she was safe in dreams.