We’re talking about cookies and cremation when I figure out what’s wrong with Hector. He never laughs.
He’s straddling the tire swing and toeing whorls in the sand, deliberately reserved. The others are making a game of puns–their snickers vibrate like they’re being drawn across the ribs of a washboard. It’s my first epiphany.
I’ve heard about it before, discovery, revelation. Now I know Hector.
And I hate it so I try desperately to make it untrue.
War and piece of apple pie, I say. The words are rickety and too offhand. Hector notices and his face looks even quieter.
Salt and pepperoni, someone offers.
I stand and dust slips off me as I advance. The others are melting into billowing shadows as I focus on that absent face.
Green eggs and Hamlet, I say. Hector’s feet are now still.
Mickey Mouse and minimum wage. My fingers coil around the swing chains and my elbow riffles his hair, even now damp from showering.
I’m yelling. Fire and eyesore. Stop and goatee.
The tire swing is light–it’d be so easy to toss him. His arms droop at his sides, and I imagine them scrabbling at the tread, fingernails black.
Love and marijuana.
Hector’s a pile on the ground and I’m punching his thin pillow of a stomach. His breath erupts, marks the air with its staleness. The others are clamping my arms, wrenching me away, but I flail for one last kick and his eyes smack open.
They meet mine and their darkness calms me.
In them I see heaven and helicopters, arsenic and old lacerations. I see what Hector has seen. And I feel my eyes flood bitter in understanding. His life hasn’t been all sugar and spiral-bound notebooks. Hector never talks about home, and not because it’s boring. It’s awfully exciting.
Friends and famine, he says.
I don’t laugh either.