Page 27 - WTP Vol. XI #3
P. 27

 “Right,” Mark laughed, or tried to. “You’re full of shit. You realize that?”
“I’m just thinking out loud. I never said for certain.”
“Actually,” Mark said. He took his pillow in his hands. “You’re the one who’s giving me the creeps.”
He raised the pillow high, where it hung with all the justice of an executioner’s axe. She shrieked at him with joy and fear and coiled into a ball, her elbows and her knees stuck out like pikes or bony javelins. He was about to leap on top of her—to wrestle her absurdly into innocence, the past—when the bed- room started buzzing with a gentle seismic shake. The garage was being opened. Amber’s mom was home from work.
He dropped the pillow, rolled away from her, then got up from the bed. Amber didn’t speak, but he could hear, his back still turned, as she uncoiled herself, exhaled.
“Forget it,” he said. He was suddenly resentful, though he didn’t know of what.
He picked up his controller. The monkeys on the menu screen were caged within their spheres, where they danced and spun around with an unlikely, smil- ing patience. It was then that Mark realized they were wearing only t-shirts, that between their legs was nothing but a sexless patch of fur. The music, like a nursery rhyme, came cooing from the screen.
“Let’s just play,” he said. “Let’s play another game.” ~
Their mothers, working separately, had signed them each up for the eighth-grade retreat, the summer trip to Pensacola. The retreat was called “BreakThru,” a name so vague and stupidly bombastic that Amber couldn’t help but say it constantly. In the days leading up to this fateful expedition, she would turn to Mark and ask, assuming with her voice the hollow gran- deur of a guru, “Are you ready for this, Mark? Are you ready to BreakThru?”
The first time, he had laughed. After that, not so much.
They’d met on Friday morning at the church, around dawn, and had boarded a great, graying bus, the many clothbound seats of which were filled with howling teenagers. The pastors sat up front, and Spencer, once the bus took off, began to make the rounds, checking in with everyone and moving
slowly back. The boxy built-in TV screens were flash- ing into life, and the window shades were drawn, were blocking out the morning light and capturing instead an inner cinematic glow, a mild and dusky dream-light corresponding to the movie. Remember the Titans, with its deep nostalgic palette cast in reds and muddied whites, the yellowed grass of football fields, the dark gold of a night game.
Mark was in the final row, the long one that connect- ed at the far end of the aisle. Amber, to his right, had sprawled across the seat and closed her eyes and gone to sleep. Beneath her outstretched legs (he wasn’t staring at them, really), the pattern of the seat- cloth showed a thin and rigid line of many colors, like a rainbow, which ran the seat’s full length and was bisected, at the bottom, by another line just like it. Two strips of fading vibrancy against a navy back- ground—all of it soft, but dirtily so. It made the bus seem ancient, the product of some decade when they hadn’t been alive. It also made him lonely in a way he couldn’t name.
He noticed Spencer coming back, the pastor in his uniform. The Chacos and the hiking shorts, the high- performance flannel.
He watched him walk the aisle, and he thought of Amber’s words. They seemed, in Spencer’s presence, more absurd. This was not the bearing, not the face of any pervert. Spencer was too normal, too athletic and good-looking. He watched him. He surveilled him. He dismissed it as a joke.
When the pastor finally reached them, he barely glanced at Mark. He was looming in the walkway, gazing sweetly down at Amber. That was the word
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