Here, above/ cracks in the buildings are filled
with battered moonlight.
[mks_dropcap style=”square” size=”35″ bg_color=”#505556″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]K[/mks_dropcap]ent had snuck the tent and two sleeping bags out of the garage and Christopher took food from the walk-in pantry. They rode the GO train facing backwards from Markham before their parents came home from work. Then they took the subway, facing the wrong way again, from Union Station to St. James Park.
There are high-rise condos and office buildings around the park and a bunch of skinny trees with no leaves on them. It’s October and dark, except for the full moon. They clear a place for their tent next to a fountain that isn’t working. There aren’t too many empty spaces left and Kent likes being near a place to piss in case he has to go in the middle of the night. He wet the bed until he was twelve, until they put him on DDAVP. He didn’t want to use the nose spray, but he was tired of his parents being mad at him. Your little brother doesn’t wet the bed, his mother would say. Stop that moping around, his dad said. Why don’t you try smiling once in a while? What’s there to smile about? Kent wondered. He was tired of waking up from a dream where he was pissing in a glass jar or in a cold river only to realize he had soaked the sheets. After a few days of DDAVP the wetting-the-bed thing stopped, but then he had to crap all the time and he wanted to sleep lots. Sleep was the thing he liked most until he got his first boner.
◊ ◊ ◊
“Stop doing that,” Kent says to Christopher, who’s eating crackers and peanut butter. “You don’t dip crackers straight into the jar like that.”
“Do you have a knife?” Christopher asks. “What do you expect me to use?”
“No, I didn’t bring a knife. Just stop making a mess of the peanut butter.”
“You’re so gay,” Christopher says, bending to tie off the tent to the leg of a park bench.
Kent ignores the remark. He knows what Christopher really means. He means that he’s too neat and too nervous. He means that he fidgets and paces. When he was thirteen and Christopher was eight, Kent overheard him asking their mother for his own bedroom. It’s like sharing a bedroom with a hamster or something, he moves around all night, he’d told her. Kent had discovered jerking off. He felt a little better for a few minutes. It helped him to fall asleep once he’d secretly stopped taking the DDAVP.
◊ ◊ ◊
Kent is shorter than Christopher and like their mother, he’s very thin. The fact that he walks bent over makes him look even smaller.
Christopher has been told that he looks like their dad. He’s six-one and he’s only sixteen. He’s not doing bad in school, all subjects, except math.
“Mom’s going to freak,” Christopher says. “We’re past curfew.”
“Yeah, dad’s gonna freak too. So what? They’re the 1 percent, Chris.”
“There’s a zillion tents down here. This place is like a maze.”
“Yeah, and it smells like pot too. Who cares?”
“What’s the 1 percent anyway?” Christopher asks.
“The rich people. They have everything. Look at all the poor people in this park—they got dick.”
“I think the 1 percent are the people with tons and tons of money,” Christopher says, looking down at a sign someone has left by their tent. Eat the rich: Occupy Toronto. “Mom’s a teller at the bank—she doesn’t earn ten million like her boss. And Dad says he kisses ass at some investment-broker job he hates for the pension and to pay for the Nissan.”
“Well maybe they’re not the 1 percent on the top end,” Kent says. “But they’re not the 1 percent on the other end either. The bottom 1 percent don’t have fuck.”
◊ ◊ ◊
When the guy with the headlamp strapped to his head sticks his face into their tent and offers them a hit, Christopher pulls the flap back and asks his brother to zip up the tent.
“We’re leaving,” he says. “There’s freaks in this park.”
“It’s just hash,” Kent whispers. “We’ll take the 11:30 train back to Markham. Come on, Chris, don’t be a wuss. It won’t kill you to take one puff. ”
Christopher has recently been called a wuss by someone at school so his brother’s comment hurts. He doesn’t do stupid things for the sake of being cool; his classmates assume it’s because he’s chicken.
“Okay, Kent,” he says. “One puff and then we’re going home. That guy outside looks like an alien with that light strapped on his head and all those tattoos and, like, who doesn’t wear a shirt in October?”
“All right. One puff and then home to the Markham bourgeoisie,” Kent says.
“Fuck you,” Christopher says, play-punching his brother on the arm.
“Fuck you too, bro,” Kent says, holding the canvas flap back so the guy with the headlamp cocked to the side of his head can crawl into the tent.
“Are you sure this is hash?” Christopher whispers to his brother, as they sit cross-legged side by side.
“Of course it’s hash. Don’t be so fucked up.”
“What do I do?”
“Inhale,” Kent whispers. “Act like you’re eighteen.”
◊ ◊ ◊
Christopher feels good and can hardly wait for the next pass of the pipe. He wants to run outside and howl up at the moon. But he won’t. He doesn’t want to leave his brother because he loves his brother more than any fucking thing in the world and the headlamp guy weirds him out. When the guy leaves, Chris and Kent unroll their sleeping bags.
“Hey, dude,” says Christopher. “I’m really glad you’re my brother.” Trying to fit his extra long body into the sleeping bag, he adds: “This thing is like a casket. Why did dad buy something so dumb?”
“It’s supposed to be tight to keep you warm. Don’t think of it as a casket. Imagine you’re in a cocoon,” Kent says.
“Sick,” Christopher says. “Our tent is really fucking sick.”
Christopher has seen his older brother looking sad and pretty angry. Kent’s always fighting with their parents and he pretty much never smiles when he’s at home.
“I love you too, bro,” Kent says.
When the guy with the headlamp and pipe comes back, it’s Christopher who speaks first.
“So, like, why do you keep coming back to our tent?” he asks the older guy, who’s probably thirty-five.
“The lamp. I heard you guys talking and I liked the light in the tent.”
He was referring to a battery-operated lantern that Kent had stuffed into one of the sleeping bags and that was now hanging from a string in the middle of the small tent.
“But lots of people have lights,” Christopher says, purposefully not making eye contact. “Besides, you have a lamp on your head. Don’t you ever take that thing off? It’s like kind of in my face.”
“Nope,” the guy says, passing a lit pipe and putting his hand on Christopher’s leg.
“Hey, my brother’s not gay,” Kent says. “I am though.”
“Nice,” says the guy, dropping more brownish-white crystal into the base of the pipe, then moving his hand over to Kent’s lower back.
“I don’t think this is hash,” Christopher whispers in his brother’s ear. “I’m leaving.”
“I don’t know,” Christopher says. “Maybe the yurt library. It’s right over there,” he adds, nodding in the direction of the big white tent he remembers seeing when they came into the park.
“That’s stupid,” Kent says. “We said we were going to stick together.”
Christopher wants the guy with the pipe to leave. He knows his brother is gay and he’s cool with that. He only wishes Kent would meet someone nice, not some older guy with long hair and stupid tattoos. The guy looks like a giant moth. The tattoos are one gold circle over another, two on each arm, like an eclipse or something; under each circle, there’s wavy lines.
“I’ll come back when the Man-Moth leaves,” Christopher says, looking the guy right in the eye.
“Man-Moth,” Kent says, inhaling from the pipe. “I like that.”
“Me too,” says the guy.
◊ ◊ ◊
It takes Christopher a few minutes to find the yurt library strapped down like a white moon among the rows of dark tents. There’s light glowing off it that looks kind of cool. Christopher is not feeling so high anymore and he wants to go back and check on Kent. But he can’t go back. Awkward. The whole thing is awkward.
The yurt is clean. His mom would approve. Mom? She really is going to freak. There are boxes and boxes of books—Steven King’s The Running Man; Weird Sex and Snowshoes; lots of Shakespeare. Christopher knows Hamlet and The Tempest from grade ten drama. He picks up Romeo and Juliet and sits in a corner with one eye on the entrance to the tent. Everything looks tilted—the crates of books and the handwritten sign on the wall that says Library Please Come In.
Christopher can’t concentrate; he worries about Kent with the Man-Moth guy. He has to get Kent and make him catch the last train to Markham, but when he stands to leave he feels dizzy. The tent is spinning and there’s really bad cramping in his stomach. He can’t breathe. When he reaches into his jeans for his cellphone, it takes everything he has to dial 9-1-1.
◊ ◊ ◊
They didn’t use a condom. This is really fucked up, Kent said to him, but the Man-Moth didn’t stop and Kent felt too stoned, so he had to do what he always did when he was with someone he didn’t like—he imagined he was flying backwards over trees and buildings, over city parks, highways, lakes, even the ocean.
Kent hears the ambulance but doesn’t think much of it. There are all kinds of noises in the park—drums, people talking, car horns, streetcars, singing, shouting. The Man-Moth is naked and passed out beside him. Kent reaches over and switches the headlamp off before closing his eyes and going back to his nightmares.
◊ ◊ ◊
It’s the Man-Moth who wakes him with the news.
“Hey Kent,” he says, “Wake up. Someone died.”
“Where’s Christopher? My brother. What the fuck …”
Kent struggles to get out of the sleeping bag. It’s too tight and he’s still stoned.
“Whoa,” says the Man-Moth. “Slow down, wiggle your way out. Nice and slow.”
Kent runs from one end of the park to the other, looking in tents. Asking people if they‘ve seen a tall kid wearing a Jimi Hendrix shirt.
“Someone died,” says one guy who talks to himself and hits himself in the face between words. “Someone.” Slap. “Tall.” Slap. “And.” Slap. “Young.”
Complete fuck-up, Kent tells himself. You’re the older brother.
You’re twenty-one, not twelve. He imagines his mother’s voice. What were you doing while your brother was wandering through that hell-pit alone?
His father won’t say much, but he’ll probably cry, even though he hates it when anyone else does. Kent looks for his cellphone but can’t find it. Then he remembers that he gave it to Chris. Walking away from the park, he heads for the Bloor Street overpass. His parents are going to hate him more than ever. He isn’t interested in a car or a big-dollar job and can’t express how pissed off he is by writing stupid poetry or painting like his shrink told him to. He doesn’t have Chris’s happy gene. He’s sad all the time or else doing something stupid like getting kicked out of high school in grade ten for selling a joint to a dude he thought he could trust. No wonder everyone likes Christopher better. No wonder.
Fuck-up, he says to himself as he gets close to the bridge. Fuck. Up.
◊ ◊ ◊
Christopher opens his eyes because he hears a woman’s voice. It’s a woman in white and she speaks softly.
“Did you take any drugs?” she asks.
Christopher nods his head, yes.
“Do you know what kind?” she asks.
Christopher shakes his head, no. He wants to tell her to find his brother. He wants to tell her to call his mom and dad. He can’t speak: they are sticking a plastic tube down his nose.
“You’re in the hospital. You’ll be all right,” the nurse says. “Just a little uncomfortable. We’ve called your parents,” she adds, holding up his cellphone, showing him HOME and their telephone number.
“Kent,” Christopher cries, ripping the tube from his nose.
◊ ◊ ◊
Capitalism is fucked. People are fucked. I’m a total screw-up.
Kent casts a shadow on the sidewalk because of the moon. The Man-Moth has disappeared, but Kent imagines him walking behind, wearing the headlamp, only with the light turned off.
“We should go into the city and hang with people and stuff,” he’d told Christopher. “We can tell the parental units we’re going to a movie. We can sit the wrong way on the subway train.”
Kent knew that Christopher liked the subway. They had a rule to stick together and never sit facing forward. “Side by side, brother by brother, speeding back in time.”
The only time Kent ever felt good was when he was with Christopher: Glad you’re my brother, dude, he imagines his voice. Now Chris is dead and there’s only one thing he can do. He crawls through the barrier to the outside of the Bloor Street Viaduct. He looks up at the night sky. The moon, beginning to fade, draws him in. The light is cold.
Love you, bro, he imagines Christopher saying.
Kent turns around so that he’ll fall backwards in time. He falls away from the city and the bridge with the anti-suicide bars that make him think of jail. Over the treetops the moon is a porthole, a golden eye to a better world of people, a place that exists before the time the Man-Moth stuck his face into their tent, his headlamp making him blind.
Jim Nason has published two novels, The Housekeeping Journals (Turnstone) and I Thought I Would Be Happy (Tightrope), as well as a short story collection, The Girl on the Escalator (Tightrope). “The Man-Moth” is from his new short story collection, Damned if You Do. Jim teaches fiction at George Brown College and is the new owner and publisher of Tightrope Books as of November, 2014.