I hear it coming from Tommy’s parked car. Muffled voices. Tommy does most of the talking. Brian fills in the rest with silence. The conversation is as follows:
“Sorry, I can’t talk about this anymore. It makes me too angry, just thinking about it.”
“I’ve never really wanted to kill someone before.”
I peek through the blinds. Brian sits in the passenger seat, staring blankly at the windshield. Tommy has his face buried in his hands. They don’t look at each other for a long time. Tommy goes on—
“You can leave me, that’s fine, I can handle that. I lost my mom, I can lose anyone. But if you do leave me, leave me with a list so I have something to do.”
Brian glances toward the cottage, his eyes meeting mine. I close the blinds, retreat to my corner. I hear an engine rattle into half-life. Flat tires rolling, gurgling over gravel.
It’s awhile before I realize what Tommy means by list. He means a list of the men who’ve raped Brian (there are four of them). I realize this after Brian finally does leave Tommy to join me on the road to Los Angeles and I know Brian must have left him with this list. On the road—I don’t know how it reaches us—Brian receives a letter. I find it tucked within the pages of his battered copy of Infinite Jest (a book he calls extremely transphobic, but his favorite book anyway). Inside the envelope is a newspaper clipping from the Bellingham Herald detailing a horrific car accident, in which three people died. One of whom was Buddy Guy, the last of the four men who raped Brian. Buddy was driving his pickup when it begins to rain, a hard rain unlike the usual mist of rain salting the state of Washington. He flips on his windshield wipers only to find that his windshield wipers aren’t there. Rain battering the glass, a wash of wet, he speeds past a stop sign and T-Bones a Subaru, killing two others inside.
At the bottom of the clipping, in Tommy’s uneven scrawl, it reads—
That’s one. I love you. Kisses and things.
The clipping is in better condition than the book. I fold it carefully down its worn crease and slip it back inside.
But that all comes later. We haven’t even gotten to the road yet. I don’t even know that in several weeks time I’ll be on my way back to California, Brian at my side. Right now I’m still hunched over my phone, frantically swiping everyone right on Tinder in the hopes of shaking the man who stalks me, follows me, the man who calls himself Walker, the man who first made himself known to me that mad summer five years ago, just south of LA, where all this began, stopped, begins again now.
Swiping everyone right, it’s no surprise you get more matches, but I’m not paying attention to the quantity, nor the quality. This is a game, you see? None of this is real. This is the card I’m playing, my joker, my jester. If Walker is to come back now, after abandoning me for so long—and in abandoning me convincing me that all of that, that summer, was nothing but a manic episode—then he’s got another thing coming. At least now it makes sense, why I’ve had such poor luck on here. Any girl that shows an interest, he pays them off, tells them to stay away. I doubt they put up much resistance. They don’t know me, they don’t realize I’m worth it.
Walker, I will keep you busy, I will fuck with you. How many matches must I get before you run out of payouts, before you can no longer buy them off?
Nine matches now, Walker. How do you like them peaches?
I don’t look at their faces. I send them messages, standard compliments about eyes, about piercings, about smiles. Nobody responds. As long as I keep this up, Walker can’t bother me.
10. 11. 12 matches strong.
A petite blond who wants to pet my dog— HI! I LIKE YOU HAIR
A gymnast, flexible legs— HI! I LIKE YOUR EYES
A manic pixie dream girl, lavender hair— HI! I LIKE YOUR FRECKLES YOU HAVE THE BEST KIND OF FRECKLES
Only the manic pixie dream girl responds, which is good because it means Walker is losing pace, he can’t keep up or he’s running out of resources. Either way, I’m winning.
The name of the manic pixie dream girl is Jane. What Jane says is—
Thanks! ☺️ I haven’t heard that one on here before.
While I stare at the screen, absorbing the shock of an actual response, debating whether to say “really?” or “you haven’t”, she sends me another message—
Your bio says you like to read, what are your favorite books?
I swallow, give her my short list of 20.
While I sit there, patiently waiting for a response, I quickly add—
She names three. The Handmaid’s Tale and Geek Love and The Secret History. I wonder if I sent her too many, but she doesn’t mention it. She asks me if I like working at the bookstore.
I tell her that I do, quickly asking if she does too.
I like shopping in the bookstore, she says, if that’s what you mean.
Oh, I type, I’ve never seen you in there before.
I haven’t seen you in there either 😁. (Though I later find out this is a lie.)
I tell her I would’ve remembered her hair, it being lavender and all.
I only just dyed it, she says. Do you like it?
I scroll through her photos, see that her real hair color is auburn. Then there’s her big toothed smile. Those freckles, they really are something else. In them you can make out constellations.
The world becomes a dream, a daze, colors of light flood my vision. I forget about Walker, about this game we’re playing.
“Are you okay?” Brian asks me. He’s just coming home from work, dropping his keys onto the desk.
He pulls off his boots, scratches the pale skin within the holes of his socks. He looks at me again. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
“Someone is talking to me on Tinder.”
“Like, they’re responding.”
“And they’re asking me questions, too.”
“So you mean, like, a normal conversation.”
Brian nods, his eyes softening at their edges. “Are you going to meet with her?”
“And she knows about this?”
“And she’s okay with this?”
Brian yanks off his socks and gets up, walking past me. He pats me on the shoulder and says, “I’m proud of you, bud.”
Later in the night I overhear another conversation, though it’s more of a fight and it’s too loud to actually hear what’s going on. In this one I hear mainly Brian. He’s screaming at Tommy about something, and he’s screaming too fast for Tommy to get a word in.
It’s okay though, I’m not worried, I’m not angry, I wasn’t going to get any sleep tonight anyway. I roll over. Next I hear the violent rocking of Tommy’s car. Smeared sweat across the windows. Moans. Huffhuffhuffhuff.
I doze into something, some sort of dream though I don’t remember what it is, what is happening. The only thing I recall are Walker’s eyes, always floating, circling at the periphery of every dream, the borderlands.
A door slams, the whole cottage shakes. Brian turns on all lights, oblivious of the fact that I’m trying to sleep, very well was asleep. He drags his feet to the closet, buries himself there and excavates all kinds of crap I’ve never seen. He seems to find what he was looking for, because he stops.
“Hey,” he says to me. “Hey.”
He sits on the mat, near my thighs. My comforter is pulled up to my chin. He looks at me, says “hey” one more time. Pats my forehead. “Good, you’re awake.”
“What’s up,” I say, unmoving. He smells of cigarettes and whisky. The air burns itself around him. He seems to open his eyes though his eyes were already open.
“I was thinking,” he says, “you should have these.”
He almost collapses as he sets the little wooden box on my chest.
“I don’t need them,” he says, “not anymore.”
I peek into the box, look back up at him.
“They upped my Testosterone again. With the dose being pumped into me now, no life could possibly survive in there.” He points to his stomach, but he means his uterus.
“Are you sure?” His logic sounds shaky.
“I hope she shows up on Sunday,” he says as he pushes himself up off the mat. Stumbling, he has to steady himself against the doorframe before finally leaving. He doesn’t turn off the lights.
It’s 3:52 am.
I lay there in the light awhile, feeling the weight of the box on my chest. I breathe in. The box rises. I breathe out. The box falls.
In the morning the lights are still on and the box is tipped, a scatter of condoms surrounding.
Extra thin, extra large, magnum, ribbed, flavored, skin natural—I scoop them all back into the box, bury the box in my dresser.
Taking a cold shower, I let the water numb my shell and wake whatever is left inside. I try not to think about what’s happening to me, what I’m supposed to do. This downpour crawls over me, I watch it splatter at my feet, pool in murky filth before the drain sucks it under.
join man next week for journal #22 (in which Tommy Tinder writes a book)