“Why are you hanging out with that shit stain?”
“Shut up, he’s cool. Okay, he’s not cool, but I like him. And we work really good together.”
“C’mon though, a comic book? This isn’t middle school, Case. We’re both single now; we should be spending our free time trolling for chicks.”
“It’s a comic for adults; that’s a thing you know. And besides, are you really single? I see you and Brenda almost fighting nearly every single day.”
“What? We aren’t even close to fighting anymore, everything’s cool. I just have to get her to move all of her stuff back to her locker.”
“And then the divorce will be final? Who gets the kids?”
“Well, at least I coulda had kids with Bren. You and the ass-pirate will have to adopt a little Korean baby or something.”
“Look, Chris, I know you want me to be gay so that it can give you the courage to finally come out, but you’re gonna have to find that strength in yourself buddy. I support you, but you just never gettin’ a piece-a this.”
Nothing relieved tension between two straight guys like inferring each other are gay. It’s like two old ladies sipping tea and having a chat.
“Anyway, seriously, Andrew is cool. Not “cool” cool, but he’s alright. Don’t give him a hard time, alright?”
“Whatever, fruitloop. Your boyfriend is safe with me.”
I was starting to really like Andrew. We’d been meeting at the downtown library two or three days a week to work on the Death Man stories. He showed me a few examples of the gekiga style he’d been talking about, and I was trying to put that sort of spin on the Death Man stuff. It helped because I knew nothing myself about drugs or pimps or filthy street life. The only time I’d been to New York was to see the Rockettes, so I wasn’t tuned in to the hard-knock life. Plus, hanging out with Andrew helped me remember Jeremy. Chris wouldn’t understand any of that, but Steve seemed to get it.
“Yeah, man, I didn’t realize how much Jer and this Andy kid hung out. That’s awesome; I thought I was his only friend. I’m glad he had someone else.”
“Yeah, me too. And that’s something. . .I mean, Jeremy had us. Andrew seemed to only have Jeremy. I feel bad for that kid.”
“Shit, I never even thought of that. Everybody needs friends. And, like, I don’t really think about Jer that much, but I pass his house every day. And it’s still weird that he’s just gone. I used to wave at his mom when she’d be out in her garden or something, but she always just gave me ‘mean face.’ Lady’s crazy!”
“Yeah. Gotta feel bad for her though; I’m sure she’s just. . .how do you deal with that?”
Steve went to shrug, but his shoulders froze up at the accent. He dropped them slowly, a thoughtful look on his face. I’m not sure he ever really thought about Jeremy’s mom or how Jeremy’s death might have affected her. She was just another crazy adult to him. Seemed he was reconsidering that assessment.
Andrew rejoined Literary Society to the appreciation and chagrin of Jenny. She was glad to have him back, but she was a little upset that we spent most of the meeting talking to each other about Death Man.
“I’m very pleased you two have found common ground, of course. But I would not mind some more input on the actual meeting scope. I think the other members could definitely benefit from your insights.”
By my account, the other members were doing just fine writing about flowers and love and angst, maybe some angsty flowers every once in a while. I didn’t understand why it was so important to Jenny that we set a pace for everyone else. I thought they did just fine, in a lot of cases way better than Andrew or I could have done on the material. Death Man was consuming us a bit. We asked if maybe we could put one of the tamer pieces into the Lit. newsletter.
“Listen, this book you’re working on is fantastic. I just don’t think this is the right forum. First, I don’t think it would get past Ms. Einger; she has to approve everything we publish. And, look, I don’t want to make the other writers feel badly. They all work so hard.”
I was slightly miffed at Jenny, but I understood. She didn’t want her real poetry sitting next to a comic book; I got that. Andrew was pissed. We knew there wasn’t really another outlet in school for what we were doing. We didn’t have a comic book club, and even if we did, it would probably be a comic book reading club.
Closing in on Christmas break, we put out another issue of the newsletter. I put in a poem I wrote about two guys having a sword fight, one of them an old man and one of them a young man. To me, it symbolized a lot of what high school was about, how kids thought we were hot stuff but we had a lot to learn from the older generations. I thought it was pretty good. After it came out, I actually got some compliments. A kid in my shop class said, “Hey, I saw that thing you wrote, crazy shit.” I thanked him, really proud that my poem was able to resonate with him.
Then a girl stopped me in the hall on the way to Literary Society. “Are you the Casey who wrote that story? Oh my god! it was so touching.” I was really surprised I was getting this much feedback, only that one kid had ever said anything about any of my poems before. I was feeling good.
When I got to the cafeteria for Literary Society, no one was there yet. Andrew must have been there and left though because he left some of his drawings on the table. I picked it up and looked it over. This was one of the first Death Man stories we had written. Death Man picks up a prostitute, and they go back to her apartment. They don’t have sex, but they do a lot of drugs together, and all of a sudden, the prostitute overdoses. As she hits the floor, foam coming out of her mouth, eyes glazed over, Death Man cooks up one more spoonful of heroin. He walks over to a closet and opens the door, and there’s a little girl inside. Death Man says, “Call the cops, kid, your mom ain’t coming back, and she ain’t gonna hurt you no more,” right before he gives himself a big old vein full of drugs. I’m reading the story, sort of proud how well it turned out, when someone says, “Casey Beldon?”
I looked up and it was Mr. Keane, one of the assistant principals. Jenny was standing behind him, looking worried. “Mr. Clark wants to see you.” I was a little taken aback, but I folded up the copy of Death Man and followed Mr. Keane out the cafeteria. It was then that I noticed there was a copy of Death Man on every table in the caff. And as we went down the hall, there was a copy tacked up on every bulletin board, taped to every door, and there were copies scattered on the ground in various places.
Andrew had gotten us published.
Dan Pullen lives in Connecticut with his wife and three children. He writes stories about simple people and their complex lives.