The Spider’s Kiss Goodnight
W. T. Paterson
Tommy’s name was called over the loudspeaker during 2nd period chemistry. He looked at the teacher, Mrs. Borsch, who didn’t pointed at the door with an ancient crooked finger. He stood up and straightened his well-worn green flannel and walked to Principal Howe’s office running a nervous palm through his short hair. A delicate girl was sitting outside and smiling like she held a juicy secret. She had dark hair with a pale purple stripe running just left of center. It made the skin around her face seem like it was glowing a saintly white.
“Ah, Thomas!” Principal Howe said, wiping muffin crumbs from his fingers onto his khaki pants. “This is Lillia. Her family just moved to town and she’ll be joining your sophomore class. I thought, ‘who better to show around a new student than one of our best?’”
“I like your shirt,” Lillia said.
“Oh, thanks. It used to be my Dad’s. It’s a little big,” Tommy said. He awkwardly patted the front of his jeans and swayed from toes to heels doing everything to avoid eye contact. Even still, he took note of what she was wearing. Black jeans ripped at the knees and a black tee shirt for a metal band that had a graphic of a snake fighting a tarantula.
Lillia held out her hand. Tommy slowly outstretched his palm until it pressed against the new girl’s. It was warm. She snatched him tightly and hoisted herself up until she was right in front of him. She smelled like berry lotion and like she’d been sitting in a car where someone had been smoking.
“Don’t worry, I don’t bite,” she said.
“Tommy, can you do me a solid and let Lillia shadow you for the week? You’re basically in all of the same classes, but, you know, let her eat lunch with you and stuff. Show her our Stallion Spirit! Do you like sports, Lil?”
“No,” she said. She hadn’t taken her big eyes off of Tommy.
“Ah, well, we have a kiln and junk for you artsy types. You’ll be fine,” Howe said, looking over his shoulder and eyeing another muffin. “You’re in good hands with this one though. He’s come a long way and we’re all proud.”
Tommy wanted to die. His cheeks burned with embarrassment and the tip of his nose went cold. He nodded and walked into the hallway as Lillia trailed.
“Can I tell you a secret?” she said, scooping his arm between hers, which pulled Tommy’s shoulder and head to her level. She put her lips near his ear. “Those muffins I brought are expired.”
For the first time all week, Tommy cracked a grin.
By the end of the day, Lillia had gotten a good sense of how the school worked and where to find her classes. Tommy helped with her locker (“if it won’t open, punch just above the latch”), and which teachers were the good ones (“Mr. Jason is funny. He uses Snapchat and stuff”). He also managed to keep Lillia talking about herself, which was a relief because he hated talking about his own life.
“It’s just me and my Dad,” the girl explained. “My brother comes in and out, but it never lasts.”
“Oh,” Tommy said, unsure how to navigate the waters. Teenage years hadn’t been the quirky romp like they were in the movies. They were dark and confusing, which made him keep his emotions hidden out of fear that they’d overtake him and he’d become like his parents. “Any boyfriends?”
“Boyfriends? Plural?” she giggled. “I’m not that kind of girl. But no. Not even singular. Which I guess makes me singular. You?”
“No boyfriends either,” Tommy tried. When it was met with awkward silence, he stuttered trying to regain footing. “Girlfriends, I mean. Singular too. Looks like we’re just a pair of singulars.”
“We’re such a paradox,” Lillia said, tugging his arm again. It was a new type of attention, something warm and bursting with light instead of the forced pity and arms-length praise. While most of his friends went to dances and movies on Fridays, he was at home watching his two younger sisters and doing homework while his aunt and uncle talked to lawyers in the next room.
“So, I’ll see you tomorrow or something?” he said, not wanting the day to end.
“Give me your phone,” Lillia said, holding out her palm again. Tommy reached into his pocket, pulled out his cell, and watched as the girl typed her phone number into his contacts. She sent herself a text. At the same time, Mr. Jason came around the corner.
“Tomm-o!” he said, and held out a fist to bump. “I saw the school paper. Congrats, homie. Real proud of you. Side note – you ever want to talk, my door’s always open.”
“Thanks,” Tommy blushed. Lillia smiled.
“What’s in the paper?” she asked.
“Just a dumb poem I wrote, or whatever. It was homework, but Ms. Kleineman freaked out when she read it and demanded they print it in the paper. She wants to send it to the Boston Globe or something. It’s whatever.”
“I love poems! What’s it about?”
“My mom,” he said. There was a heaviness in his voice. Lillia didn’t press.
When the final bell rang, Lillia swiped a copy of the school paper and waved goodbye to Tommy. She hopped in the front seat of a car and disappeared. Tommy’s Aunt waved from her SUV parked along the school’s entrance. He sauntered to the passenger door and climbed in. The January cold held static in the thin air and the inside of his nose felt like a haystack. The trees were bare and gray mimicking the colorless sky, and the exhaust from cars puffed out like they were smoke stacks from old mills.
“How was your day?” his aunt Carol asked. She was a chipper and driven, constantly adorned in LL Bean.
“Fine,” he told her. They started driving towards the elementary school to wait for Tommy’s sisters Sophie and Hannah to be let out.
“Learn anything fun?” she asked. His phone buzzed from his pocket. And then again. And again once more.
“Nope,” he said, slinking into the seat and pulling out the phone. There were three texts from Lillia.
I <3 your poem!
And I <3 spiders! I have a pet tarantula named Chewy!
What are U doing Sat? Wanna chill?
It was only Thursday, but her version of Saturday sounded infinitely better than what he had to do.
As the car pulled into and idled along the walkway of the elementary school, Tommy felt his insides clench with anger. His jaw tightened and his fingers balled into fists. Aunt Carol noticed.
“Hey, you hungry? Want a snack? We still have time if you want me to swing through McDonalds,” she said.
“I don’t want McDonalds,” he replied, barely moving his mouth. He bent forward and pulled out some homework, but his breath stayed shallow. “There’s a test on Monday.”
“Hey, it’s gonna be ok buddy,” Carol told him. She put a hand on his shoulder near his neck and rubbed gently.
“I don’t want to go see Mom or Dad this weekend,” he said, the words immediately sprouting tears.
Carol sighed in frustration and turned off the engine.
“We’ve been over this. You have to go see them. It’s not up for debate.”
“So I’m basically in jail, too, huh? I don’t even get a say in my time.”
“What has gotten into you?!” Carol asked, wide-eyed. “Your uncle and I work very, very hard to make sure you have a good life and a good home. And believe it or not, seeing them will help make sure you don’t follow in their footsteps.”
“I’m nothing like them!” Tommy screamed. His face and cheeks were burning red and warm tears were pouring out of the corners of his eyes. The homework had crumpled in his hands.
“Ok, it’s ok, it’s fine, you’re fine,” Carol tried, in her practiced calm voice that the lawyers and counselors helped her prep. “I think you’re a smart young man. I really do, and that poem you wrote was just so…beyond your years. People around you love you, and I know it gets hard sometimes, but that’s also life. We need the good with the bad.”
It sounded like she was reading a greeting card. It wasn’t helping, but the spell was starting to lift. Kids started coming out through the doors and Tommy took a big composing breath to put on the big-brother face for his two young sisters.
“It’s whatever,” he said, and texted Lillia back.
Busy this Sat. Soon tho?
She texted back almost immediately.
The frozen air that had filled his nose and lungs began to feel more full, like spring was an attainable destination.
The Spider’s Kiss Goodnight
When it was time
To kiss me goodnight
And tell me “sweet dreams”
And turn off the lights
There were only your hands
And fingers, and legs
Wrapping me in webs
Of stingers, and blades
The family you hurt
Will only know fear
And what they have learned
Has followed me here
That when you say you love me
Your words have bite
There’s poison in my blood
From your spider’s kiss goodnight
Saturday was cold and bleak. Clouds hung low, which overtook the sky and suppressed the sun’s light. Sophie and Hannah sat in the back of the SUV speaking in their secret sister language. Tommy sat in front leaning his head against the cool passenger side window. He desperately wanted to text Lillia, but couldn’t get over the fear that she might respond ask what are you up to?
The stone castle of Danvers State Penitentiary rose from the only road in and out. The sparse trees lined the pavement like silent sentinels across the frozen grounds, shivering in the wind and begging for salvation. Somewhere in the distance was the shrill cry of a buzzer.
“I’m going to take the girls to see your Mom first,” Carol said, as they idled in the parking lot. “You can come with us, or maybe that guard will be your chaperone again. Would you feel comfortable asking?”
“I’m not a baby,” Tommy said. He undid the seatbelt and waited for his aunt to unlock the doors.
Inside, Officer Gaines led him down a long, fluorescent-lit hall. There were no shadows. Instead, there were cold echoes of their footsteps bouncing off of the white painted walls. They stopped behind a massive iron door and waited for the buzzer.
“I’ll be in the corner,” Gaines said. She had her dark hair pulled back into a ponytail. “He stands up, I’m on him. You make sure to haul ass towards the door if things go sideways.”
The iron door unlocked with the sound of sharp buzzer and slid open to a bare room save for one metal table bolted to the ground. His father sat on the opposite end smiling the way a person smiles when they’re holding a secret over someone else. His thick hair was slicked back, making it look thin. There was a tattoo on his neck of a spider web.
“Tommy boy,” the man said. His voice was low, gravely.
“Just Tommy,” the boy said, and slowly sat on the metal bench.
“How ya been?”
“Fine,” Tommy lied. The two sat in silence for a moment. His father wouldn’t break eye contact.
“From you, yeah,” the boy tried.
“No. And not what I meant,” the father smiled. “I can smell her on you. The girl.”
Tommy felt the blood drain from his face and his eyes well with water. He tried to be strong.
“She’s…whatever,” he said, looking down. The shining table was rough from all of the scars and scratches. They sat in silence some more. Officer Gaines shuffled in the corner. “How do I like…make her like me?”
“Common goals,” his father grinned. “Find the shit that gets you both off.”
“Is that what you did with Mom?” Tommy asked, softly. In truth, he’d never seen two people more in love than his parents. Even after they were dragged out of that family’s house where the kids were tied to a radiator and the parents were beaten and cut open, barely clinging to life, they professed their love between squad cars. At the courthouse, they rushed to kiss before being pulled apart and tazed. He’d even overheard Carol talking about the graphic letters they sent back and forth to each other inside of the penitentiary.
Tommy’s father slowly stretched his neck from side to side and started to loosen up his shoulders. Gaines mumbled something into the radio and a moment later, two guards began to mill on the other side of the iron door through the small glass window.
“We all think ourselves heroes, yeah?” he started. “We all think we’re in control. That rules was there to keep us happy and safe. That crowds will sing our names into the night with praise and adoration. Has that been your experience?”
“No,” Tommy whispered, remembering the protestors who called his parents awful, terrible names. The hate mail Carol received. The extra measures the school had to take for Tommy and the girls. The brick thrown through his window with the words burn the babies written on it.
“I ain’t never met a hero who did not possess an unmistakable darkness,” his father said.
“I’m not like you,” Tommy said. His voice quivered at the ends. He had yet to hold eye contact for more than a passing glance.
“You tired of being angry? You mad at the world for the things you can’t control? Then break the system,” the man said, slowly rising to his feet. The iron door started to slide open with a thunderous roar as Gaines’ radio went frantic with guards issuing coded orders.
Tommy’s father leaned over the table and gently brushed some hair out of Tommy’s face with a giant swollen knuckle. “My beautiful baby boy,” he said.
Someone grabbed the collar of Tommy’s shirt and ripped him backwards. He landed hard on his shoulder and something popped beneath the skin. There was a fierce pain, but before he could recollect he was hoisted to his feet and rushed to the long empty hall where the sound was bouncing in furious directions. He turned quickly before the door closed to see batons coming down hard against his father’s back, and the violent wails of pain where only seconds before there was laughter.
Tommy limped down the hallway to the sitting area, even though it was his shoulder that was burning with pain. He saw the girls crying in the waiting area and Carol was visibly flustered.
“What happened?” Tommy asked. Carol didn’t turn around.
“Your mother is sick. She said horrible, gross things that I will not repeat.”
Back in the car with the heat blasting, radio on low, no one spoke.
Halfway home, Tommy overheard Hannah in the backseat quietly ask Sophie what sodomy was.
“Remember? Mom said it was to get fucked in the ass,” Sophie whispered. “Whatever that means.”
Dear Mr. Lang/Ms. Kleineman,
While we appreciate the opportunity to read your work, we do not believe The Spider’s Kiss Goodnight would be a good fit for our publication.
We wish you the best of luck in placing it elsewhere.
-Sleeping Sun Poetry Editors.
Sunday morning and the pain in Tommy’s shoulder was furious. He got up and tried to take a warm shower, but nothing soothed it. The mirror showed a deep purple and green bruise with small veins webbing out from the point of impact. The sight made him feel woozy
“Carol,” he said, walking out of the bathroom in his boxers. “I think I need to go to the doctor.”
His aunt gasped and nearly spilled her coffee when she saw the mark, and began rushing over to catch the collapsing boy.
“You’re fine, it’s fine,” she said in her calm and practiced way. It wasn’t certain who she was directing it at.
“Your mother thought she could stop a car with her mind once,” Carol said, as they sat in the doctor’s room. “Reality thought otherwise.” She made a screeching noise with her mouth and softly punched her open palm.
“That’s so dumb,” Tommy laughed.
“She was smart though. Like you. Dangerously smart. I think she just wanted to find out what was truly possible.”
A doctor in a white lab coat with a poor pun of a pin that read “Apple?” came in smiling.
“Alrighty! Mr. Lang, I took a look at the x-rays and the good news is that nothing is broken. The bad news is that your shoulder is dislocated and we have to pop in back in place. Scale of 1-10, it’s probably going to hurt around an 8.”
“Can you give him some painkillers or anything?” Carol asked, nervously.
“After the fact, of course. Ok bud, you ready?” the doctor asked gently cupping Tommy’s arm and lifting it shoulder height. He squirmed and winced and nodded yes.
It happened quickly, like snapping a branch from a tree and making a similar sound. His shoulder popped back into place and the thunderous pain roared to life.
“Will he get, like, Vicodin?” Carol asked, scratching the back of her palm.
“Advil, extra strength. Hey, off topic – you wouldn’t be related to those people that broke into that home a few years back and…”
Tommy shot the doctor an icy look. The doctor bowed his head and offered a quiet apology.
Tommy was able to text with Lillia before school to meet up in the lobby. She was waiting for him as she walked through the doors.
“Can I see it?” she excitedly asked.
Tommy lifted the back of his shirt up near his head. Lillia helped and then softly ran a finger across the bruise. Her cool, soft hands felt like a welcome relief.
“It’s…whatever,” he said.
“Does it hurt?” she asked.
He pulled his shirt down and started walking. In the back of his mind, something clicked and his stomach turned to iron. He stopped cold.
“What’s wrong?” Lillia asked.
“I was supposed to study for my chemistry test, but I…had to deal with…other stuff,” he said, letting the weight of his words pull at the top of his head.
“Just tell them what happened. I’m sure they’ll let you take it later.”
“Not Mrs. Borsch. She said tests can only be missed for a wedding, a wake, or a funeral.”
“Stay here,” Lillia said. The purple stripe in her hair caught the light as she trotted away. Before the sound of the next bell that officially started the day, she scampered back with a paper in hand. “This is the test. You already know the stuff, but now you can focus on the answers for these questions.”
“I shouldn’t,” Tommy said.
“Dude, who cares?” Lillia asked, pinching his pointer finger between hers.
When they started walking to first period, Tommy slid the rest of his fingers between hers and whispered thank you.
The first time Tommy went to visit Lillia, it was a Thursday. February had just begun. He told Carol that it was to work on a group project and other people would be there.
It was a lie.
Lillia’s dad worked construction in Boston and the union had him working odd hours. They’d only really ever see each other when he’d drop her off at school, and pick her up in the evening.
“This is Chewy,” she said, as a tarantula crawled from her shoulder down to her wrist. “He’s a good boy.”
“Aren’t you scared that it’ll bite you?” Tommy asked, not realizing he was leaning away.
“He won’t. Not unless I say so,” she said. “Did you know that when a spider bites you, the body physically changes to get rid of the venom? Lil’ Chewy could turn us into different people.”
Tommy sat on the couch and re-tied his shoes, even though they weren’t loose.
“You gonna go to the Valentines Day dance?” he asked. His voice squeaked on the word day, and it made him unbearably self-conscious. Lillia frowned and shrugged.
“I don’t have a dress.”
“Can’t your dad get you one?” he asked.
“It doesn’t really work that way around here.”
They sat in silence for a moment looking at their own feet. Lillia moved first to sit on the arm of the couch next to Tommy.
“It’s a dumb dance anyways. It’s whatever.”
“No one has asked me yet,” she said.
Lillia slowly moved her legs next to Tommy’s and slid down beside him on the couch. She put her head on his shoulder. Chewy scampered to the back cushion and stayed out of harm’s way.
“If I went, it’d just be to make fun of everyone,” the girl chuckled.
“What if I got you a dress?” Tommy said. The suddenness of it surprised even him. He didn’t have a job or a savings, so he wasn’t sure where the idea even came from.
“Wanna know what my name means?” Lillia asked. Tommy nodded. “So my real name is Lillith, which means ghost, or night monster. Isn’t that cool?”
Lillia’s leg brushed up against Tommy’s. He savored the gentle weight of her calf against his own.
“Were you serious about getting me a dress?” she asked. Tommy’s face went flush. His heart moved like it was spinning a web of warmth through his body.
“Maybe we can go together, or whatever,” he said. He looked forward towards the TV and didn’t move, even when he felt Lillia’s eyes burning a hole through his head. In his periphery, he could see her fighting against a giant smile.
“What should we watch,” she said, snapping forward and grabbing the remote from the coffee table.
“Whatever,” he said, because for Tommy – everything that mattered wasn’t going to stream from Netflix.
When Carol came to pick him up, he put on his jacket and waved goodbye from his hip.
“Tomorrow in the lobby?” she said from the couch, letting Chewy crawl back up to her shoulder. Tommy nodded and let himself out.
By the time he got home and into his room, there was a text from Lillia that read is it tomorrow yet?
Carol poked her head in.
“Hey, I know things have been tough lately, but I wanted to let you know how much we appreciate everything you’ve done. You’ve kept your grades up, you’re being responsible, and I don’t want you to feel like we’ve forgotten about you. Your uncle is going to take the girls to the zoo, but I was thinking maybe you and me could to the Museum of Science?”
“Really?!” Tommy smiled.
“I think it’s in the budget,” Carol said, so very proud of her joke.
Tommy leapt up and hugged Carol with the type of affection typically reserved for a mother.
“Proud of you, kiddo,” she whispered into the top of his head. He was almost as tall as she was.
“The winter carnival is coming back!” Carol said on their ride into Boston. “Ice sculptures, food, rides, fireworks, everything!”
“Cool,” Tommy said, watching the world whip by. I-93 South was fairly empty leaving only the passing car flying by at reckless speeds.
“Next weekend. Think you’ll go?”
Tommy thought about Lillia and smiled out of the corner of his mouth.
“Maybe. I was also thinking about getting a job or whatever.”
“Ooooh,” Carol grinned. “Where were you thinking?”
Tommy shrugged. He hadn’t thought about it too much.
“Maybe I can start at the house. Fix stuff. Paint. I dunno.”
Carol pondered it for a moment and began to nod.
“I think we can work that out.”
The dress felt more attainable than ever.
They pulled into the parking garage and slid into a spot. Carol purchased two Adult priced tickets, and winked at Tommy. He excitedly shifted weight between his feet looking at the Rube Goldberg contraptions in the lobby triggering cause and effect ripples. He pulled a map from a display and flipped through. He had a vague recollection that there was a big sphere in a room that created lightning, and a whole wing that was made to feel like a tropical jungle. There were astronaut capsules, ocean rooms, interactive displays that projected 3D images, and mini-courses led by staff scientists. He wasn’t sure where to start, he just wanted to go in.
Carol’s phone rang. She looked at the screen and became concerned.
“Hello? Wait, what happened? And they’re…oh no…we’re just…ok, it’s fine, it’s ok, we’ll be right there.” She pulled the phone away from her face slowly. “Your sisters had a bit of a meltdown at the zoo. They’re asking for you, Tommy. They’re asking for their big brother. We need to go.”
They drove to the zoo. Sophie and Hanna were wailing in the backseat. Tommy felt torn between the responsibility of being a good brother, and the anger and unfairness of it all. He wanted to scream in their faces to leave him alone for ruining his day – the day that was his reward for putting up with his own unfortunate lot in life.
He climbed in with his sisters and asked for some privacy.
“Stop crying,” he said, his own eyes welling. “You ruined my day! Why can’t you just leave me be?!”
“The animals…” Sophie sobbed. “They’re in a cage. They’ll never get out.”
“They’ll never see their babies,” Hannah wept.
Tommy blinked and felt warm tears spill down his cheek. His shoulder pulsed. He leaned in and put his head forward, arms around both sisters, something his own parents never did.
“The babies still have each other,” he whispered.
The small hands of Hannah and Sophie reached up and balled the cloth of their brother’s jacket behind his shoulders holding on, never wanting to let go. They drove home in silence.
Later that night, when no one else was awake, Tommy took a hammer to his wall.
Dear Tommy Lang (and proxy Ms. Kleineman)
We absolutely loved your poem and can’t wait to publish it. Our team decided to also award our Young Voices prize along with publication. Please let us know the best email address to PayPal the $250 to, and we’ll take care of the rest.
Please reply to confirm, and once again – congratulations.
-Miriam Rothschild, Sr. Ed of Belongings Quarterly
Over the next few days, Tommy vacuumed every room, re-wired a lamp, and fixed the lock on the front door. He made between $5 and $10 per task. At this rate, he could almost feel Lillia’s happiness when he came through on his word.
They ate lunch together every day at school, and texted when they were home. They often talked about the songs they hoped would be played at the dance. Neither of them noticed the new designer boots that Ms. Kleineman was wearing.
Then Tommy came home to an upset Carol. She had discovered the hole in his bedroom wall.
“That money you’ve been saving, it’s all going towards fixing the what you did. Understood? You better learn how to patch this.”
And just like that, another dream became tied to the wall.
Tommy doesn’t know I’ve been sending out his work and he’ll be so thrilled to hear. Since he’s under 18, send payment to MKleineman@gmail.com and I’ll make sure he gets it. He’s been through enough rejection, so I’m trying to shield him from the nastiness of the other journals saying no.
The carnival set up Friday morning in the parking lot of the high school. Tommy and Lillia watched from the cafeteria.
“There’s a ferris wheel! And a fried dough stand!” Lillia pointed out. Tommy nodded silently. He was too afraid to break the news that he wouldn’t be able to buy her a dress, and that without the dress – she wouldn’t go to the dance with him, and she’d hate him forever for being a liar.
Ms. Kleineman approached their table with Principal Howe.
“Good news, Tommy. You’re poem is going to appear in Belongings Quarterly! They’ve also named you as one of the best new young voices. Congrats.”
“Wow!” Lillia said, putting him into a headlock hug and pressing her soft cheek against his.
“Cool,” Tommy said. “Is it the type of place that, like, pays money to writers?” It was a long shot, but maybe there was one last miracle brewing that could save everything.
“Um…no,” Ms. Kleineman said. She started to fiddle with her hands.
“If it’s ok with you, I’d love to announce this in the monthly newsletter to parents and the community,” Principal Howe said.
“It’s…whatever,” Tommy said. He was more concerned with whether this would be the last time Lillia would be happy around him again. The thought of drifting alone through life was terrifying. He didn’t want to lose her, but felt the anxiety of eventuality creep in like a slow moving spider across his mind.
“Let’s go celebrate this weekend at the Ice Carnival!” she said, and Tommy looked at her shocked. Was it possible she still liked him? “I can’t go on the rides, or get food, but we can still walk around or something and watch the fireworks.” Her face became suddenly still and sullen.
“Ok,” he told her, and took her hand. She squeezed back with two quick pumps before pulling away.
“You’re gonna forget about me, aren’t you,” she quietly said. “This is your ticket out.”
But Tommy didn’t hear her. He was too busy looking out the window at the carnival being set up in the cold February day.
Carol let Tommy off the hook when she learned about his poem. The hole in his bedroom had been mostly plastered, but even a good paint job couldn’t hide the scar.
“Are people meeting you at the carnival? I’ve gotta tell you, me and the girls went earlier and they have some great arts and crafts.”
“Study group,” he lied. Carol tossed him his winter jacket. He put it on over one of his father’s well-worn flannels.
“I’ll get you at 10. Sound good?”
“Ok,” he told her, and slid into his heavy coat.
They drove to the school’s lot and he jumped out. He forgot to say goodbye to his aunt, even as she honked and waved pulling past. Tommy was too anxious to see Lillia and break the news about the dance and dress.
She was waiting for him underneath the bright yellow bulb lights of a fried dough stand. She had on a heavy black sweatshirt that was two sizes too big. Chewy was on her shoulder. Behind her was a small window near a cash register.
“Does he like the cold” Tommy asked.
“He doesn’t love it, but he likes me, so…” she said, and Chewy scampered from her shoulder to the pouch. “What’cha wanna do?” she asked, hands tucked behind her back, torso twisting.
“Um, so like, before we do anything, I just really like you,” Tommy said. “I told you I’d get you a dress, but I don’t have any money. I tried, Lillia. I did.”
“Oh,” she frowned. Her mouth moved like she was forming words that couldn’t come out. “I guess I was really looking forward to the dance. Just to feel normal for a single, stupid night, you know?”
Tommy felt his throat well with guilt.
“Me too,” he said. Seeing Lillia this way was near unbearable. Life had just dealt them shitty hands and they had to exist in the same space as everyone else who was dealt good hands, with loving parents and decent jobs.
“It’s fine,” she told him. Her smile was forced.
People lined up on the other side of the booth to order fried dough. The server took their money and turned around to put it in the cash register. There was a mechanical poetry to his motion.
“If going to the dance in a dress is the shit that gets you off…” Tommy said, his father’s words coming from his own mouth. Lillia looked up, shocked. He crept to the window and waited for the server to turn around. When he did, Tommy wiggled the side of the window and slid it up.
Something in him held him there, like he knew how to execute. He wasn’t even afraid of getting caught. Confidence took over. He ran his finger over the buttons and pushed a few. The drawer popped and he leaned in further to paw out the money. Luckily, he started with the 20’s and quickly shoved them in his pocket, then went back for the next round.
But when he did, the server had turned around and saw his hand reaching in.
“Hey!” the man shouted, grabbing Tommy’s wrist. Tommy panicked and stuck his other hand through to try and get free. There was a brief struggle, but he was able to pull away. But before his hands were outside of the window, the server slammed the window down, crushing the bones inside. He felt them pop and snap, the skin above ripping away as he pulled feverishly out. The moment he was free, he took off with Lillia into the darkness, away from the carnival. They disappeared in a matter of seconds.
“I can’t believe that!” she laughed. “That was amazing!”
“My hands…” Tommy said, kneeling down onto the cold ground. “They won’t stop shaking.”
Lillia reached into his pocket and pulled out the big wad of $20’s.
“There’s like, twelve-hundred dollars here…” she said, sorting the bills. “We could live for months off of this.”
Something about the way she said it, about how the darkness made her skin perfect, how the distant carnival seemed to be unlocking the things that always hid underneath, he was never more certain of what to do next.
“It’s…time. Let’s go. Let’s run. Just us. Forget this life, we’ll start our own. I’m done with these rules.”
“But…what if we run out of money,” Lillia asked.
“These hands will heal,” he said. “Let’s be different people. Let’s have Chewy bite us.”
Lillia pushed some hair out of Tommy’s face with a gentle finger. She looked at him through the pain and saw more pain. Inside of that pain, she found belonging.
“Come with me,” she said, pulling him up by the elbows. Fireworks began to pop in the distance, lighting the sky with fast fading stars.
She lead him around the outskirts of the light, away from the fried dough stand, and treading lightly through the darkness.
Lillia finally stopped and kissed him behind the Ferris wheel as calliope music twirled into the air. Her lips were warm, the tip of her nose was cold.
“I’ll never hurt you,” she said, holding Tommy’s delicate face in her hands. “But this is going to hurt…”
Tommy held her awkwardly around the waist pretending his newly broken fingers weren’t on fire. It was worth it though, she was worth it, and it would have always come to this no matter how hard he tried to suppress it.
From Lillia’s shoulder, Chewy dreamily walked down her arm and towards Tommy’s neck. It bit him hard enough to draw blood, but not hard enough for him to scream. He whispered “remember me” into the fading light of the carnival as the poison began to blur the fireworks, and the screams faded into the wind.
APB: Thomas Lang, 16, wanted for theft and robbery. Hasn’t been seen since Saturday, February 8th. May be injured. Accompanied by Lilith Hargrove, 16, purple stripe in hair.
Exhibit caution upon approach – legacy of violence.
About the Author
W. T. Paterson is the author of the novels "Dark Satellites" and "WOTNA". A Pushcart Prize nominee and graduate of Second City Chicago, his work has appeared in over 50 publications worldwide include Fiction Magazine, The Gateway Review, and The Paragon Press. A number of stories have been anthologized by Lycan Valley, North 2 South Press, and Thuggish Itch. He spends most nights yelling for his cat to "Get down from there!"