Continued from: Beneath the Weeping Tree: Part 13 — Here’s Looking at You, Kid
The evening temperature had cooled, but not as quickly as the dinner conversation between Ellen and Cooper before he left the apartment. He never asked her why she wasn’t out there looking for a job, so it came as a bit of a surprise when she brought up the issue with him. “It would give you a chance to get some of the things you’re always talking about that other kids have and we can’t afford,” she said.
He stared into the compartmental frozen dinner—some of the peas were burned while others were still crusted with ice. He was just beginning high school and she wanted him to get a job already? What was that all about? Must have seen something on TV about kids with jobs excelling in other areas of life, or helping to supplement the family income. He thought about all of the romanticized visions of the thirties he’d seen in movies, the years of the Great Depression that commanded an “all for one, and one for all” attitude. Boys quitting school to work in factories and girls never bothering with education in the first place, opting instead to stay home and help take care of younger siblings, or mend clothes and cook what little food the men could muster with their meager earnings. But these weren’t the 1930’s. The economy was still booming, and while the job market was very good, Cooper had no interest in joining the work force. He wasn’t a character in The Grapes of Wrath, and as far as he could tell, the women back in that time worked just as hard as the men. You’re not exactly Ma Fuckin’ Joad, he wanted to say, but didn’t. Such a comment wasn’t worth the aftermath.
He slithered out of the conversation and away from the apartment without acknowledging her suggestion that he think about getting a job.
A thin arc of moonlight bled into the sky as dusk crept steadily forth. Narrow clouds smudged the sunset, brushing the horizon in red streaks. A slight wind picked up, whispering through the treetops. He sat on the curb, eyes closed, listening to the shaking leaves, and he imagined the breeze translated into some other language—a connection between his thoughts and nature. Like the vapory line between consciousness and dream.
Cooper had spent many nights on the curb waiting for darkness to claim the day. He drew from a cigarette most times, just after dinner, purging the residual tastes of frozen dinners and processed desserts. Usually it was Little Debbie cakes or ring dings that followed the main course. Home economics class had taught him the reality of the diet his mother subsided on, and he tried to sneak in a healthy thing or two every now and then to avoid further punishment to his body. Unlike most kids his age, he usually passed over the twizzlers and slush puppies in the school cafeteria in favor of an apple and a spring water. He wasn’t thinking about nutrition, though, as he sat there and sucked on a cigarette and watched its tip glow. The spent match book lay crumpled to his side and he regretted not grabbing more before he left the apartment.
A tangle of voices emerged from the distance. Cooper knew it would be some of the other teenaged residents of The Villas. Although there were plenty of them, he got along with only a few. Most were slackers whose idea of a good time included lighting fires on the run-down tennis courts and throwing rocks at street lights. Monday mornings usually displayed the remnants of those bulbs sprinkled along the edge of the pavement. Many of the teens hung around the parking lot where he now sat, kicking a hacky sack or lighting firecrackers—sometimes sneaking off in pairs to smoke a joint in the shrubs. He steered clear of them for the most part, avoiding their glares or the occasional hazing they offered, their telling him to take his skirt off and join them for a smoke. He had nothing against people who smoked pot, but those kids were loud and obnoxious, hooting into the late night hours and leaving broken glass and candy wrappers strewn in their wake.
He stubbed out his cigarette on the curb but remained seated when they came into view. A fleeting sense of regret passed and he wished he’d retreated to the woods before they’d arrived. The tree-top perch in the woods was a sanctuary, though, and he was cautious to hide it from other people in the days since he built it. The last thing in the world he wanted was for those douche bags to discover his spot and claim it as their own. So he waited out the darkness, considering that he could sit and watch them. It was way better than television.
Three figures approached, one taller than the others. Cooper guessed it was Danny Spade, a three-time high school freshman. Triple crown. It was a wonder that nobody seemed to pick up on the fact that he was a lot older than most of the kds in his grade—that he’d be able to drive them to school if he had enough brains to pass the licensure test. His loud mouth was attached to a pimply face and Cooper heard him called ‘pincushion’ by more than a few of his dead-beat upperclass friends while they gunned the engines of their late model cars and gawked at pretty girls in the high school parking lot. Pincushion Danny always tried to give it right back to them, but usually failed in this endeavor as his mind lacked the creativity to fashion good comebacks. It was usually the old standard “yeah sure, just like your mom”, but occasionally he spouted some gibberish like “whatever sizzle-face. That’s what the mushroom said.” Sadly, the supposed insults were out of context and rarely made any sense—words that sounded like curses but were nothing more than garbled nonsense.
But Danny did have one area of expertise that was amusing. Cooper had seen him in action from a distance one afternoon and it wasn’t clear, at first, just what Pincushion’s intentions were. The main road that led from the island’s center to The Villas had an uptick in traffic most afternoons, so it didn’t seem like a smart thing he was witnessing when he watched Danny run out in the middle of the road, squat down, and then run back toward the spot he came from. Pincushion had done this twice before Cooper got close enough to understand what was going on. The embarrassment flushed on the face of the first guy who stopped, a bread truck driver, squeezed into a uniform that was a bit too small, foretold the fun that could be had. Pincushion Danny left an opened porn magazine in the middle of the road, and then hid behind a bench on the side of the road. When the bread driver pulled to the side of the road, Cooper posted himself against a telephone pole a few hundred feet away. The poor guy waddled out into traffic, an awkward gait that could be paralleled only by the fattest of fat kids on the first day of gym class, and bent to pull the magazine from the pavement. At that point, Pincushion Danny Spade came bolting from behind the bench bellowing, “Pervert. We have a slip-dashin’ pervert, folkie folks.” It was almost the nyuck-nyuck voice of the Three Stooges, only a hell of lot more annoying. “A dissa-disappointed pervert, at that.” He’d brushed the nudie magazine with tar before affixing it to the concrete, preventing the guy from capitalizing on his discovery.
Cooper felt bad for the guy, but reasoned that it was a pretty pathetic maneuver, on his part, to fall into that trap. It also reinforced his opinion that Danny Spade was nobody he would ever call a friend.
When the voices came closer, it appeared that Pincushion Danny was accompanied by Rod Sullivan, a bullish boy with wide shoulders who lived with his grandmother in the building next to Cooper’s. Rod was more well spoken than Pincushion, but he had a few issues of his own which most people probably didn’t know about. In seventh grade, he’d been in math class with Cooper, and when he acquired the chicken pox, Cooper spent a week delivering his assignments from the school. On one of those visits, the kid’s grandmother confided to Cooper that Rod’s spirits were especially down because not only was he sequestered from the world with chicken pox, but also his mother hadn’t made parole at her recent hearing. “Oh, well that’s too bad,” Cooper said, not quite realizing what parole meant. But his own mom filled him in rather quickly on those details that evening. If there was one good thing about his mom it was her vault of television related information. At the time, he figured he owed his knowledge of parole to NYPD Blue or Matlock, two of his mom’s absolute favorites. Rod treated Cooper cooly from that point on, probably figuring that if he avoided giving Cooper a reason to talk with him, then maybe he’d be less apt to talk about him.
Molly Shanahan bobbed like a puppet between her not-so-highly-pedigreed companions. Her giggle sliced through the evening like a bus chortling across a garden on a spring morning. “Nooooo Daaanny,” she squealed before coiling away from him in a pitch of laughter. She latched onto Rod’s arm and Cooper imagined him blushing, a real live girl actually touching him. He wondered if there were scars left on that arm from the outbreak of chicken pox. That sort of thing probably wouldn’t bother Molly though, as her reputation attested to being very comfortable touching people. As an eighth grader she’d been banned from riding the school bus for lifting up her shirt and selling views of her naked boobs for a quarter apiece. She’d become notorious from that point on, referred to as Molly Mounds.
More recently, though, Cooper had been tramping through the woods on the way to his then-unfinished tree perch when he heard that familiar squeal erupting from a thicket of undergrowth. He approached with caution, moving each branch with care, and was rewarded with quite a show. There she was, Molly with her eyes closed, chin dipped toward the sky, and clothes scattered. Cooper didn’t recognize the guy who was fucking her that afternoon, but he didn’t really care. Probably some trashy utility man she lured off a pole or a random pedestrian she passed on her way home from school—he often saw her walking alone as the school bus lumbered past. After a moment of watching from behind a tree, Cooper put a hand in his pocket and was disappointed to feel himself stiffening. He retraced his steps through the undergrowth and found the path toward his tree, climbing it, and, before he even reached his perch, he had his dick in his hands and rubbed one out.
The three of them stopped a few dozen yards from Cooper, Molly sitting down on the paved parking lot while the two boys paced half-circles around her. Pincushion Danny cast a blade-like shadow as the fluorescent parking lot lights illuminated with a hum. Rod lowered to a knee and Cooper watched, waiting to see what he was doing. Was he into plastering the world with dirty pictures like his buddy? Soon it was clear that he was chalking some sort of design into the parking lot. His hands worked busily, one propping his chubby frame while the other worked the chalk back and forth.
“What’ch ya drawing, dickweed?” Pincushion leered.
Rod was not baited by the comment and continued to work. Molly lazed back on her elbows staring up toward the sky, closely resembling her position on the forest floor on that lustful afternoon. Cooper watched her intently, the head swaying back and forth, cut-off jeans riding steep on her thighs. He wondered if he’d ever consider chasing after her or if her reputation would prevent him from allowing himself to get mixed up with her. He imagined kissing her and concluded that it’d be like going out for ice cream with your mother after accidentally seeing her naked. He pulled a fresh cigarette from his breast pocket and stood up and kicked aside the spent match book. A stone fell from the curb where he’d been sitting, inviting all three of them to look up at him.
Pincushion rocked back and forth on his heels and Rod stopped drawing. The two of them looked startled, frozen, and Cooper stared at them—like Danny and Rod were a giraffe and a bear cub awaiting a new visitor in their wild kingdom. Molly pulled her knees toward her chest and when Cooper drew near he noticed the cleavage that spilled over her tank top. She offered him a bubbly smile when he stopped.
“Well, look who came out to play,” Pincushion jeered.
“Hey Cooper. What’s up?” Again, Rod ignored his gawky friend and played the situation cool. Cooper found himself searching for the scars of chicken pox and decided that the lights in the lot were not bright enough.
“What’s happening guys? Molly?” They were all staring at him and he suddenly wished that he hadn’t come over to join them in the first place. But, then again, he needed that light.
“Just chillin’” Rod said. He stared bashfully at the image he’d chalked into the parking lot: a bluish eye with a star shaped iris. A stick figure hunched beneath the eye as if trying to carry it on his back.
“Charles Atlas with a twist,” Cooper said.
“Yeah. Maybe something like that. I need to stick to the chalk for a while since I got busted for tagging a wall down at school. Had to scrub those fucking bricks with a wire brush for three Saturdays in a row.”
Cooper vaguely remembered Rod as an artist but had no idea he was into graffiti. He thought of all the images he’d seen painted in public places around town and wondered if Rod was responsible—the library, the tunnels near the public train, cinder block walls behind the mall, even the sidewalk in front of a church. His favorite had been at the school bus stop: airbrushed people dancing around a campfire, images of psychedelia swirling upward in the flames, beautiful blends of vivid purples and oranges accented with lime green symbols.
“Not bad,” Cooper said. “Sure beats hanging around this place doing nothing,” he finished, glaring at Pincushion. Molly laughed.
“Do you have one for me to smoke, Cooper?” she asked.
Sexual innuendoes sped through his mind but he crunched them away before saying, “Sure thing. As long as you’ve got a light.” He shook one from the soft package and handed it over. She produced a salmon-colored Bic from her pocket and lit him up before lighting herself. He nodded his thanks and stepped away from them. “I’ll be seeing you guys around. Stay outta trouble tonight,” he called over his shoulder.
Dusk had slipped into total darkness and he tightened the straps of his backpack. He still had a few hours before his mom would start worrying.
To Be Continued