"Love as Infestation"
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"The Elite Thirteen"
"Love as Infestation"
The Elite Thirteen
by Andrew Kozma
Bryans red right eye showed at night,
had ever since his thirteenth birthday, and it was hidden like it came,
in the embarrassing, secret shadow of puberty. At night, the lights off,
he could see a tiny red dot on the wall, on the window, sliding up his
blanket, sitting on his hand, wherever he looked. He made it a habit to
shut his eyes and keep them closed as soon as his bedroom lights were
off. It became an instinct.
A nightlight plugged into the wall next to the window protected him, bled
enough light into the room to drown the red dot. Bryan smuggled his childhood
light from the attic back into his room, sneaking up when both his parents
were out, tracked it down like a Christmas present. Each morning he woke
up at dawn, unplugged the light, and hid it under his pillow. He knew
his parents wouldnt approve. He thought he had fooled them.
One year later, after he was in bed, he heard his mom yelling, I
dont care, I am not going to let my son grow up like this! A nightlight
is for kids, babies, for Christs sake, and Im getting rid
of it! Tonight!
Bryan heard his fathers voice soft in response and his mother overruling
with noise, her loud steps up the stairs, could even hear his dads
nervous shuffling underneath. With a gentleness that made him jump, his
mother opened the door, slipped across the room, and smoothly ripped out
Through the door, after she closed it, through the hall and down the stairs,
after he counted her steps receding, through the living room, from the
kitchen, Bryan heard a quick, solid crunch.
Two years later he was a sophomore in high school, had managed to adjust
to his eye, the red light it emitted. He had adjusted, but he was still
afraid someone else would see, that someone else would know, and it must
be a secret, must be kept a secret, or why else had he not heard of anyone
Bryan had few friends, was in the outcast clique, whose members all knew
each other but rarely became friends. They saw each other through everybody
elses eyes. Only this year, in several classes, Bryan had been forced
to interact with a few of the other outcasts. Once for a science project
with Lindy, once for a take home geography test with Rick, and for a whole
semester he was assigned to be the Snot-boys lab partner.
This is the beginning, Bryan noted four months later, in the
opening volleys of December, The beginning of an arranged meeting.
It was the four of us that met one lunch a week into school, joined each
other at one dingy table, one leg shorter than the rest, in the corner
of the cafeteria. We didnt want to sit together. It was in our faces,
thieves converging on a leprous millionaire, but we had no choice. Every
other seat was taken.
But it all began with the seating arrangement of Bryans Biology
class, orchestrated by the teacher, which brought him next to Snot-boy
on the first day of class. He didnt realize what had happened until
a piercing snort lodged itself in his left ear and he finally knew who
Snot-boy was, and the reason for his nickname.
The boy to Bryans left murmured something.
Excuse me, Snot-boy repeated, still nearly inaudible. Hes
normal looking, was the first thing Bryan thought. It was a shock. He
stared. Snot-boy stared back. Then they stared at the teacher, paid attention
like good students, and managed not to see each other again for the rest
of the day, an arrangement aided by Biology being the next to last period.
Bryan didnt see anymore of Snot-boy, but couldnt stop thinking
about him. He wondered, for example, how he missed Snot-boys real
name when attendance was called. And how hed seen the boy countless
times before, in the hall, leaving school, at school plays, but never
had a class with him, though they were in the same grade and at the same
level in most subjects. He worried that when he talked to him, as hed
inevitably have to, hed slip up and call him Snot-boy, and any chance
for a pleasant, or at least trouble free, semester will be gone. Bryan
wondered what Snot-boy was thinking about him.
It was at the lunch table, that first impromptu time, that Bryan first
learned Snot-boys name. Adam DArpeggio, last name pronounced
with hard Gs. He memorized it, stuck it prominently in his mind, repeated
it to himself throughout the meal, but the first thought that came to
mind when he looked at the kid was Snot-boy. So incongruous to the way
Snot-boy looked: athletic, clear-skin, good haircut, not at all unattractive.
But the name was there and it wasnt leaving, not with the awful
sniffing that you could hear over any other noise, loud and clear even
if he was at one end of the school and you at the other.
Lindy, Rick, Bryan, and Sno... Adam. They discovered, after a few morose
questions, after minutes of awkward silence, that they all lived in the
same neighborhood. D-Day. It was a military housing complex with the real
name of Normandy Manor, but all the kids called it D-Day. It was for enlisted
only, and if you lived there you already had one strike against you.
Strike 1: Living in D-Day.
Strike 2: Being an outcast.
Strike 3: Hanging out with other outcasts.
By the third week they were friends, of sorts, and sat at the same table
together every day, even with other seats available. It was a strange
camaraderie, born of frustration at having people routinely push you in
the halls and ignoring your comments, your questions, your hellos. They
didnt talk much, at first, just slap-happy to be sitting at a table
with others and being able to eat without being picked on or having food
thrown at them.
So whats your deal? Lindy asked Snot-boy.
Allergies, he mumbled.
Then they both went back to eating.
Bryan started taking notes.
Lindy DeSoto: 511; walks gangly, awkward, as though trying
to walk in a specific but unnatural manner; clothing is generally shapeless,
not baggy, but not form-fitting either; speaks hoarsely and carefully,
each word considered; walks home everyday no matter what the weather;
assumed to walk to school as well, but has never been seen in the act;
goes to all the dances but never with a date; assumed to be female, though
this has yet to be determined.
You like video games? Bryan asked Lindy one day as she was
beating him at Street Fighter 3.
Sure, doesnt everyone?
During the fourth week they met outside of school. In the woods, of course,
at night, without flashlights or light of any kind. Rick was the only
one who wanted to start a fire and, besides the fact that the others wouldnt
let him, he had no matches. Expected one of the others to bring some.
He was still convinced that one or more of them should smoke.
Isnt that what outcasts do?
James Dean, you know?
Shut up, Rick, Bryan said, this time with more emphasis. He
felt like an officer in the army, a drill sergeant maybe. Either that
or a substitute teacher.
So what are we here for? Snot-boy sniffed.
Just to talk. Got anything better to do? Bryan said.
Why you wearing sunglasses, Bryan? Lindy asked.
Bryan stared at Lindy. The effect was somewhat lessened by the sunglasses,
more so by the fact that it was too dark to see. Theyd moved out
of the moonlight.
They stood in silence for minutes, the careful rustling they made when
shifting their weight being the dominant sound.
I dont know.
What could he say? He had a feeling, unfounded, baseless, that it was
now, that this is the time to start? Bryan didnt even know what
was starting. It was like a switch was flicked in his brain, and he was
off and running.
Why did you come? he asked them.
I dont know.
I dont know.
I dont care what you guys say, Im going to buy some
And that was the end of that.
to be continued...