5.06 / June 2010

Something About Birthdays

This happens: I am sitting in the basement of the old house in Tacoma, in the leather chair my mother will make my father sell the summer we move to the house in the valley. I am trying to make sense of the huge metal computer on the desk. I can’t find a mouse; the keyboard is a sheet of heavy metal. There are childhood photographs of my sister and I in small faux-wood frames set before the wall. Then I hear a voice behind me: You look old, it says, and I turn and there’s Ben, my best friend from grade school. He doesn’t have braces yet; his front teeth stick out like white erasers. I think he must be around seven years old, and I look down at myself and see that I am still 26, still the me that went to sleep in New York after too many beers. Ben is holding a bow and arrow, the kind we used to make from the rubbery cedar saplings in the empty lot next door. Slice a notch in either end with a Swiss army knife, Ben’s dad taught us. Bend the stick and tie a length of weed-whacker string between the notches. Arrows were straightish sticks; pop cans on railroad ties were enemies’ heads; our sisters were the best enemies. Ben reaches over his shoulder and shows me the arrow he’s made, the tip whittled to a jagged point. He raises the weapon and points, pulls back on the orange weed-whacker string, his right hand at his cheek. Whatever happened to you? I try to ask, even though I know by now this isn’t real. I remember your dad left when we were in sixth grade. I remember he abandoned your family so he could be gay, so he could live with Mr. Phillips, the orchestra teacher, and move to California. I remember my mother told me about it when I asked her, years after we moved, Whatever happened to Ben’s dad? and all she could say was: He left Ben a note. But what did the note say? I’ve always wanted to ask you that. What did it say? And did you understand? Does he call you on your birthday?

Something About A Finger

There was one girl who had a broken finger. Her left hand, the ring finger. Everything was perfectly normal until the last knuckle, where it bent at a hard angle across the pinkie. She said it happened when she was a little girl; she crashed her tricycle into a rock wall at the end of her driveway and it never healed right. It’s like I’m always lying, she’d tell me, Because I always have my fingers crossed. We dated a few times: I didn’t much notice the finger. But one night she was undoing the buttons on her coat in such a way that it was like watching a monster’s hand: How can I ever buy an engagement ring for this girl? I thought. Will I have to buy it extra large, so that it can slide past the broken part? Will she wear the diamond on a different finger, or on the other hand? And does she ever think about this? Does she have a plan? I never asked her about the finger because I didn’t think it was my place to ask—we’d only dated those few times. But I think I stayed interested in her longer than I would have otherwise.