Terrance Wedin ~ Three Short Pieces

Worms

I took myself to the out­door shop­ping cen­ter when the urges got real­ly bad. The unwel­com­ing way they made you slide your car into a spot was just the begin­ning. Women wear­ing pas­tel polo shirts hand­ed out sam­plers that scorched my heart. Men with ex-mil­i­tary tat­toos stopped at kiosks to touch such mean­ing­less things. Children with sneak­ers that cost as much as my month­ly stu­dent loan pay­ment passed an eye over me mak­ing sure I wasn’t some­body that mat­tered to the world.

There was a woman’s cloth­ing store I would march around, hop­ing some­body might take me for attrac­tive, might mis­take me for a boyfriend that they could turn.

Sometimes I bought a pair of fake leather pants just to have a con­ver­sa­tion with whichev­er girl they had swip­ing their key­card into the reg­is­ter. I’d get anoth­er one with a dif­fer­ent girl upon return­ing the pants. My occu­pa­tion and rela­tion­ship sta­tus changed if I felt like jus­ti­fy­ing the purchase/return of the pants. Some days I was a pho­tog­ra­ph­er, some days I was shop­ping for my girlfriend’s birth­day, oth­er days I was noth­ing at all.

If I moved slow­ly enough through the prom­e­nade I could pass a few hours. If I got hun­gry there was a Mexican place that always seemed to for­get about me and my diet coke. For most peo­ple on the patio the melt­ed ice was an affront to them by their wait­er. For me, it was cause for silent prayer.

 

At the gym, the place where I spent the most time out­side of my stu­dio apart­ment, there were machines I used to tire myself into a kind of sub­mis­sion. The walls were lined with mir­rors that you could mon­i­tor your form. I tried not to look too much. If I did look, I’d focus on what­ev­er body part I was work­ing, avoid­ing the psy­chic fate that wait­ed for me if I stared at myself too long. Other peo­ple noticed me. I cut the sleeves off my t-shirts because my biceps had got­ten big­ger. I was build­ing myself up, as they say. I bought sup­ple­ments from a depart­ment store and didn’t both­er read­ing the ingre­di­ents, just popped how­ev­er many pills the label pre­scribed. I knew the habit was prob­a­bly con­nect­ed, but these pills worked or didn’t, silent­ly.

One night when I was still active I rolled my car in an irri­ga­tion ditch and woke with worms in my pock­ets. My wal­let was void of cash or cards or iden­ti­fi­ca­tion. The arrest­ing offi­cer called me lucky, called it a reck­on­ing. He couldn’t tell if I was bleed­ing or mud­dy or both. Those worms, though.They’re still with me. They enter my brain when­ev­er I lift those weights over my head.

 

In the kitchen, it almost killed me to look at the void on the counter. Pacing the linoleum tiles on the phone I’d try remem­ber­ing the order of the bot­tles I’d kept. Bitters stained the area like a warn­ing sign: you could be blood­ied again. The phone calls were a neces­si­ty, a lux­u­ry. I had a friend who was tele­vi­sion famous. We were in same predica­ment, only he’d reaped the ben­e­fits ear­ly. Fame bored him tremen­dous­ly, so he was hap­py to talk through an urge with me. When I asked him if he ever felt pres­sured to par­ty out where he was shoot­ing his tele­vi­sion show, he said, “Only when I for­get that I could lose a lot of mon­ey.” He was a bet­ter talk­er than he was a lis­ten­er.

The lone­li­ness of the room flood­ed back to me after these calls. There were oth­er calls I could make, local ones, but none of them seemed as exot­ic as talk­ing to some­one who killed zom­bies on tele­vi­sion for a liv­ing.

Here, the cor­ner stores sold past mid­night. In the rooms, they tell you to get new hob­bies. I tried watch­ing more tele­vi­sion to tran­quil­ize myself. On tele­vi­sion, actor’s pint glass­es are actu­al­ly filled with beer. A prop guy filled my friend’s pint glass with food-col­ored club soda. His reck­on­ing was this: one day he woke up with a kid on the way.

There are always so many hours to go until the morn­ing.

The Student

 She left her adjust­ments at lunch to vis­it the stu­dent. It was famil­iar: step­ping from one world of process and appeal into anoth­er. On the high­way, she’d receive a text mes­sage regard­ing her tim­ing. When parked on his side street she sent a sin­gle word back. Her hus­band had sep­a­rat­ed him­self from her tem­porar­i­ly, took the guest bed­room. At night, even with the door closed, his head­phones trou­bled to con­tain his desires. Yet, he was still kind in the way of bill pay­ments, recy­cling sched­ules, and auto main­te­nance.

The stu­dent was unkind to her in all the ways she desired him to be. Before their first meet­ing they exchanged a list: spit, slap, choke, bite, break. There were phras­es he want­ed repeat­ed. Month ago, she’d been instruct­ed to stop knock­ing. Now, she noticed the cur­tain pulled, slight­ly. His order of con­duct was comforting—knowing he’d tend to her needs in time. The music he pen­e­trat­ed the room with reg­u­lat­ed his rhythm. His direc­tions dur­ing were cadenced, even if some­times they need­ed to be nego­ti­at­ed.

Wet and worn after, she’d leave hair-tied and hun­gry, and secure the near­est dri­ve-thru. Only then, star­ing at the menu, did the world look direc­tion­less again.

What Are We Again

Will had pierced one of his ears with an ice cube and a safe­ty pin. “I found the bloody tow­el balled up in the trash can before din­ner,” his mom told mine. And he could keep it as long as he kept up with his bible study, she said.

I hadn’t seen Will in a year. Our moms had let us talk on the phone a cou­ple times over the school year, until dad found out about the long dis­tance.

On the way to West Virginia, my mom had start­ed cry­ing. When she made the right exit, near Wheeling, she start­ed laugh­ing. I asked if she was okay.

I’m fine,” she said. “Just got a lit­tle over­whelmed.”

The day before this, she had shipped my lit­tle broth­er to a soc­cer camp in anoth­er family’s mini-van.

It was my dad’s fault. That Christmas, he’d tak­en our presents hostage after a night of drink­ing, and bar­ri­cad­ed him­self in his office, while nego­ti­at­ing their release with my mom over the phone. Things didn’t get bet­ter after that.

I was the kind of kid who mis­be­haved in small but cal­cu­lat­ed ways that nev­er made it back to my par­ents: pet­ty theft of a biki­ni girl air fresh­en­er from the Speedway and a lit­tle dis­sen­sion through­out the school day.

Got a 64 for Christmas,” Will said, in the way of a greet­ing. “We got­ta play Earthworm.”

At din­ner, we prayed. On the way up, Mom had instruct­ed me to be respect­ful and fol­low along even if I didn’t under­stand what we were doing.

Are they Christian?” I asked.

They’re Jesuits,” Mom said. “So it’s a lit­tle dif­fer­ent. They’re big on help­ing peo­ple.”

What are we again?”

Nothing real­ly.”

I closed my eyes while Will’s mom thanked God for my safe­ty and arrival in their home.  “Amen,” they said and I said it with them.

In the base­ment, Will and I lay side by side in sleep­ing bags. We watched a VHS about a group of pirates try­ing to decide between right and wrong. Will’s mom and dad came down to tuck us in and say good­night. Will’s mom kissed my cheek, said, “Let me know if you need any­thing at all.”

When she left, Will said, “I nev­er knew your par­ents got into fights.”

They don’t,” I said.

Okay,” Will said.

The stud in his ear glim­mered in the glow of the tele­vi­sion. I couldn’t con­cen­trate on the movie. Back home, at night, I pressed my ear against the air con­di­tion­ing vent and lis­tened to my parent’s voic­es ris­ing. But here, it seemed like adults didn’t speak after dark. This qui­et was as dis­turb­ing as noise.

Later, a tap­ping sound­ed on the base­ment win­dow. Will paused the VHS tape. Onscreen, a drunk­en pirate, frozen mid-fall upon a flight of stairs. Will opened the win­dow. A girl low­ered her­self inside. She brushed dirt off her bag­gy t-shirt, then intro­duced her­self.

Molly was taller than both of us and skin­ny and wore her hair short like mine. She plopped down on the couch, like appear­ing in the mid­dle of the night was a reg­u­lar thing.

We should take him to The Wall,” Molly said.

They pushed me out of the win­dow first. I rest­ed my body against the cool vinyl sid­ing. The tick of the air con­di­tion­er unit sig­naled some­thing wrong. I was sure of it.

The Wall wasn’t far, they assured me. We took alleys just to be safe.

What are you afraid of?” Molly asked me.

Heights,” I said. My real answer was that one morn­ing I’d wake up and Mom would be gone.

Behind a church, we fol­lowed a path cut through woods. The sound of water rushed toward us: a creek. We bal­anced on rocks. The head­lights of pass­ing cars passed one by one high above us on the wall.

Molly and Will took off their shirts. Will seemed so much old­er than me then. Like in the last year he’d fig­ured out things about the world that I was still wait­ing to under­stand.

It’s not cold at all,” Will said, his body dis­ap­pear­ing into the water.

Molly took hold of my t-shirt and pulled it over my head the way I’ve dreamed about women doing it since. We wad­ed in the shal­low, my feet touch­ing the floor of the creek over and over again, mak­ing sure with each step that it wasn’t get­ting deep­er. I looked over at Will, jeal­ous, as he wrapped his arms around Molly, dunk­ing her under the water. My moth­er was back home by now, and I longed for her.

Will climbed an embank­ment up to the con­crete wall over­look­ing the creek. His body was a sil­hou­ette above us.

Jump!” Molly yelled. She grabbed my hand.

Will made the sign of the cross. Traffic passed behind him. I still remem­ber the way he shook his arms out before he jumped. I think about it often now when I’m afraid. Like he was shak­ing off all the fears he’d col­lect­ed through­out his day. I won­der now if that’s what he did before he took his first dos­es of hero­in ten years lat­er, on a mis­sion trip in Bolivia, or on the night he over­dosed and died in his sleep at his friend’s cam­pus apart­ment sixth months lat­er.

Your turn,” Will said to me, swim­ming toward us.

I squeezed Molly’s hand under the water until she let go. I didn’t have the courage for what hap­pened next.

~

Terrance Wedin’s work has appeared in Esquire, Ninth Letter, Hobart, Barrelhouse, The Fanzine, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions.