Joel: Hindsight Impressions
by An Cat Dubh(return to fan art page)
INTRODUCTIONS WOULD BECOME completely inane once I tell you my tumors are making me see delusions of my past again. You’ve seen me many times, I already know, but frankly, now I couldn’t care less.
You know, as cheesy as it my sound, being in real mortal danger, having simple actions—speech, analytic thought, simple motoric activities such as reaching an item and taking it or simply walking— under the risk of becoming completely impossible (it’s even scarier when you think of it being impossible not because of a physical limitation, but because you simply don’t know how to do them!) can really make a huge difference in one’s perspective. After a while of deep depression, you suddenly accept everything, you start seeing everything as negligible, and yet, you somehow begin to cherish everything—simultaneously. And with all that, you still manage to proceed with your day-today lifestyle. I honestly don’t know how. Maybe I’m just not thinking straight.
I JUST REMEMBERED THE first time Joel and I met.
Here I am, in the little playground, at my neighborhood. I started playing with a cute girl I met. We’re building a sand castle, and we’re quite enjoying ourselves. Suddenly we reach a dispute—I want to build guarding towers around the castle, but she thinks it will ruin it and wants to make a beautiful princess looking out the window. I say, "Ew, no!" and we start fighting. Then some other girl comes and they both walk away. The girl I’ve been playing with sticks her tongue out at me, so I get annoyed and call her a "lesbian." She, in return, throws sand at my face. When I finally manage to open my eyes, she’s already busy playing with the other girl and won’t even bother looking at me.
I look at the two of them play, and suddenly I become really sad. Then I briefly look at the sand castle, and then kick it angrily. I can’t stand looking at the thing that made us fight in the first place. I’m starting to think that I could make her a statute of the most beautiful princess ever, out of plain sand. I wouldn’t mind it taking weeks, months, years even—as long as she wouldn’t go. I honestly don’t know why. I almost cry. My lower jaw is quivering and I’m burying my face in my hands.
"Don’t be sad," someone says. I look up and see a little black wolf. "I’ll play with you. My name is Joel."
"I’m Artie," I say, and we start playing in the sand nearly instantly. Can’t remember what we built. Maybe another sand castle.
JOEL AND I DON'T ATTEND the same elementary school—he attends the "normal" school at the end of the street, and I attend the Shepardic (that is, "of the Church of the Sheppard," which is more or less like Catholicism) boy’s school at the other side of town. But I can go see Joel whenever I want. He always waits for me at the gate (we both finish at the same time, but the bus takes a while to get to my street). I drop off at his school, and we go hang out in town.
This wolf guy’s quite interesting, really. I don’t know why, but he seems really mature. He talks about a lot of things I’ve never heard of from anyone else: he mentions people like Jimmy Hendrix, bands like "Pink Floyd," films like One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, et cetera. He even told me what "The F Word" that kids in my school get into so much trouble for, even when they only say it accidentally, is.
However, the most notable thing he told me about was that he’d read The Catcher in the Rye. I gasped when he told me about it. The Catcher in the Rye was a book that got completely banned from my school. Nearly anyone caught reading it was on the verge of being expelled. The principal even came to class especially to tell us how dangerous the book was and how we’ll get to Hell for reading it. And here he is, telling me nonchalantly, "I just finished reading The Catcher in the Rye"!
"It’s a great book. I recommend."
"Oh no, Joel, the principal himself said that’s just what Satan wants—"
"And you actually believe that?"
I turn silent. I started thinking about it, and then I recalled how I saw that kid coming out of his office with teary eyes and a quivering chin. When I asked him what’s the matter, he answered, "It’s a secret. Satan’ll eat me if I told you."
"Good. I’ll lend you my copy, but don’t tell anyone."
Only when I finished reading it, I finally understood the real reason everyone told me to stay away from him. I’ve always seen something special in him that made me stick to him, now I understand he was a "quasi-portal" to a new world, far better than my "Pleasantville"-like society I was accustomed to as a child.
(I nearly forgot to mention: The Catcher in the Rye was the reason I got into writing. To this very day, I am very grateful to Joel for showing it to me.)
FOR QUITE A WHILE JOEL was like a mentor to me. He taught me many new words (most of which could’ve gotten me expelled), watched "forbidden" movies (not necessarily pornography, also artistic and controversial ones), recommended to me great books, and even got me starting to date girls. After a wile I started finding books and films my own. I was now as much of a rebel as he was.
Then, a few days before I finished elementary, it happens.
My mother, father, little brother and I are all sitting in the dining room and eating dinner. My brother finishes and goes to sleep, so my mother seizes the opportunity and says, "Artie, your father and I wanted to speak to you."
My heart skips a beat, and I ask, "About what?"
My mother sighs and draws a copy of The Canterbury Tales. Not just any copy—MY copy. "We found this in your room," she says.
I always knew this day would come. It scared me, but I was also looking forward to it. Now I must be brave.
She sighs again. "It’s not just that—we also found The Giver, Marx’s writing, Nietzsche, Orwell, even Salinger."
I’m scared, but I’m doing my best to keep eating with a poker-face.
"We’ve read some of your works," my dad says. I slowly lift my head up in anger. My works are the one thing I allow no one in the world touch. Even Joel only heard some—I wouldn’t let him read them for himself, being too afraid of the idea they’ll be harmed.
"We nearly got two hemorrhages apiece," my father continues, ignoring my words. "You use a lot of bad language, you put to words the most deviant feelings, you express dangerous ideas—what’s gotten into ya, Artie?"
I hold my jaws in rage. "What’s gotten YOU?! My writings are my most treasured, most PERSONAL possession!! How on earth could you have such NERVE?!"
"You see?" my father continues. "You never dared to speak like that to us before. Something’s wrong, Artie. Very, very wrong."
"It’s all because of that Calley kid you’ve been speaking to, I know it!" my mother says.
"Good Lord!" my father exclaims in shock. "Is that true, Artimus? Have you been in contact with Joel Calley?"
I look at them both in enormous rage. "Artimus?" my father rushes me, not taking the hint.
"Take a fucking guess, moron!"
My parents both gasp in great shock.
"Artimus Crowley!" my mother says. "Do you realize what kind of sick Devil’s child you’ve been with?!"
"YOU TWO are the sick devils here!!" I yell at them. All of my previous fear disappeared. "You two Goddamn phonies brainwashed me since I was born with all that Shepardic crap, and now, when I finally manage to correct it—and I’m not even making a scene about it—you two dare to CRITICIZE me!! HOW DARE YOU?!"
Suddenly, my father slaps my face. "That’s it, young man. You are officially through with your dinner. Go brush your teeth and go to bed."
I coldly get up, leaving the plate in its place, say coldly, "Thank you for dinner. It was most tasteless," and reach the stairs, where I see my little brother, on the verge of bursting into tears.
"What are you doing here, Max?" I ask.
"I-I woke up to get some orange juice and-and I heard you talking about Canbentury Tails so I started listening in case you’re getting a pet and-and you started yelling and you said the F word and I got scared…"
Here he starts to cry. I embrace him till he calms down, whispering, "Shhh… It’s OK. Mommy and daddy had a big dispute with me but we’ll take care of it. Everything’ll be just fine."
We then go to our respective rooms to sleep. I, however, can’t get sleep for about an hour because of regret. Not about the argument, exposing my brother to it, nor even about lying to him, but because I didn’t expose him to is properly.
I FINALLY GRADUATED FROM elementary and began attending a "normal" middle school. (I told my parents I won’t go to another Shepardic school, and they didn’t insist. We hardly spoke after "that time." )
Luckily, this middle school is the same one Joel attends. It’s quite weird, really, to have so few religion lessons and even learn with girls in the same classroom. But I like it. And the society is incomparably better. Joel introduced me to a few people, most notably Angela "Angie" Jansen and her boyfriend Richard "Rick" Riberio. Both seem somewhat too impulsive (and, I dare say, not exactly as bright as Joel), but they’re nice, interesting people.
There is one thing, however, that is "the rotten apple in the pile"—a group of no-good jerks from my elementary also attend this school. (The Shepardic middle school here is selective—non-religious rebels and all-F academic failures don’t get in. Guess which one got them rejected.) So, instead of maintaining the status quo of having only their own heads filled with nonsense, they decide to be missioners and fill other heads with nonsense, only more violently.
So, one day they come to us during recess across the hallway, singing, "Perspise Cristicula, kay dignasio…" so loudly I think my ears bleed.
"Well, well, well, if it ain’t lil’ ol’ Artie boy!" their leader, an ape named Rocky Faust, says. He used to be in the homeroom class by mine and always hated my guts for getting good grades. Quite often he tripped me or stole a notebook of mine, and I, in return, thanked my teacher very loudly for every A when I knew he could hear.
"The black sheep o’ da herd!" an ant named Ahab Caleb says. He was a year my senior till 4th grade, then we were at the same class. He didn’t dare to harm me, probably thanks to Joel.
Everyone in the gang laughs, and Joel, who was drinking from the fountain, says, "I think it’s better than being a dumb sheep, don’t you think?"
The whole gang gets aggravated, especially Ernest Rome, the real sheep. "Shut up, wolfie," he says.
Joel simply snickers and continues, "You know, it looks like your noble Shepard put a blind sheep to lead you. Whenever it trips and stubs its toe, you all follow mindlessly."
"Don’t listen to that sick wolf," the ape says.
Joel laughs at their faces, and says, "Didn’t expect anything less."
Then he loses it. "Aright, wolfie," the ape says, "let’s settle this like men. Meet us tomorrow at 6 o’clock P.M. at the playground."
"It’ll be my pleasure."
Once they start walking away, Joel adds, "Oh, by the way, it’s ‘Perspice Christicola, que dignacio, celicus agricola pro uitis vicio. Even an anti-Christ like me knows that."
The ape then turns around to hit Joel, but right then the bell rings. He moves his index finger across his Adam’s apple horizontally, so Joel growls and shows his fangs in return. Then the hot-headed herd walks away.
I’ve been watching the whole thing with my jaw dropped in shock. "You come watch too," Joel says nonchalantly.
I don’t even bother shutting my jaw while we head to math class.
I’M FEELING QUITE WEIRD, hiding between the branches of the big willow tree at the playground. Oh, here comes Joel! How typical of him, walking with a straight back, hands on his back. Like a real Victorian nobleman.
"We said 6:00, not 6:10!" the sheep says, and I try not to sigh too loud.
"Dreadful sorry," Joel replies. "Shall we commence?"
"Yeah, let’s!" the ape says and snaps his fingers. Oh shit.
"Just a second," Joel says. "You said we’ll settle this like men, right?"
They all look at him, baffled.
"Do men simply go and blindly beat up whoever protests against them, or do they show they’re brave enough to use words and prove their point logically?"
He’s well-aware of his logical failures, but also of the fact that they won’t attempt to find them. And so, Rocky the ape begins:
"Look ‘round. Ya really think all this coulda been made without anyone responsible?"
Joel takes a few seconds, and the whole gang starts to smell their victory, but then Joel asks, "Have you ever looked at an advanced math book? And I mean high-school and university level."
They stopped smiling, perhaps they understood Joel had simply toyed with them by stalling his answer (not a likely scenario; they probably just figured it won’t be such an easy victory).
"I have," the ant says.
"Then you must have seen how complex and sophisticated it gets, right? And God was not involved in the making. Think about it—even had there been nothing in existence, 2+2 would still be 4, even had it not applied to anything."
The gang starts to get pissed, and Joel continues:
"From here we can also get to my next point, and that would be the fact no life-forms were found on any planet besides Earth in the Solar System so far. You see, even if a die has 5,000 sides, 4,999 white and one red, if you throw it 5,000 times, the red side would most likely show up once. Same with the planets—life-forms developed on only one planet out of many. This is what would normally happen without intervention."
Having nothing to say, they clench their fists tightly, Oh, boy. Joel’s going to die.
"Regardless, if you really are doing what your hypothetic ‘God’ wants, why did he let Hitler wipe out so many of you 50 years ago? Isn’t he supposed to be ‘compassionate,’ ‘loving,’ ‘merciful’ and all that crap?"
They seem angrier and even shattered, till one of them, a baboon says, "It was a punishment for pedophilia!"
"That’s nonsense. If ‘God’ wanted to end pedophilia, he would’ve done it far more efficiently. Do you think it makes any sense to kill millions of people, many of which Shepardic priests, as a hint to stop pedophilia? Is ‘God’ some kind of a fucking idiot?"
"Don’t talk like that about God!" a peacock says.
"Yes, every time someone curses ‘God’ one fairy dies. Maybe next time, it’ll be you."
Now they’re seconds from exploding, but Joel continues:
"Now for my final touch-up: tell me, how is it that people wrote about meeting Jesus and seeing his miracles, and their words are regarded as true, historic writings that even get declared as holy, even though almost all researchers say that they were written about 80 years after Jesus died?"
There is a very dramatic silence, and Joel says, "Quod erat demonstrandum: the Shepardic doctrine cannot be correct. Unless you have some other argument?"
That’s the last straw. They could no longer tolerate Joel’s smug pose, his rebellious attitude, his atheism, but most of all—his cold-hard logic. They all dash forward in rage, and the ape says, ‘God damn you, go to Hell, stupid anti-Christ!!"
Then, when they’re about a yard and a half away, Joel reveals the true reason for his posture: he quickly draws a large metal staff, like those you see street-gangsters carrying in the movies, from the back of the inside of his shirt, and hits the one mostly to his right so hard he knocks down all the others. Then he starts kicking and hitting them with the staff with all his strength, singing, "Perspice Christicola, que dignacio! Celicus agricola pro uitis vicio! Filio, non parcens exposuit mortis exicio! Qui captiuos semiuiuos a supplicio! Vite donat et secum coronat in celi SOLIO!!"
They try to attack back, but most futilely. Then they try to escape, and Joel eventually lets some crawl/limp away in shame, but not the ape, a snake and a rat, whom he beats unconscious, saying, "Where’s your ‘Lord Almighty’ now?"
Once they’re unconscious and I double-check to see no-one’s around, I come off the tree and get to Joel.
"Whoa… Joel, what the fuck—"
"Hey, why can theists do it and atheists can’t?"
"But… They are—"
"Unconscious. They’re not dead. I think. Regardless, it was self-defense. And no-one’s gonna know—I’m going to throw this away right now."
Joel goes to throw the staff to the nearby large garbage can. Stunned, all I can say is, "Whoa, Jesus…"
We both turn silent for a moment, then Joel starts to laugh, and I join, embarrassed.
So began the decline of Joel Calley.
The ape did, indeed, die. The snake lost his sight and left school the rat became a cripple and stayed. The sheep became a Satanist and began idolizing Joel; the and left for a convent; and the baboon converted to Islam, became a drug dealer, dropped out of school, joined a street gang, and eventually died of overdose (or was it a street-fight?) after only two months. The others (don’t remember their number, names, or species) got broken limbs and ribs, and once they’d healed, they never returned to the Shepardic Church. They became normal bullies, but they still shivered in fear whenever they saw Joel. As he predicted, none dared to complain.
"HEY, JOEL, WHERE ARE YOU?" I ask hesitatingly as I come in. I’m in Joel’s place now. It’s dark all around and no-one’s in the house, but I still hear a sad piano tune. "Joel?" I ask again, walking towards his room. Suddenly I realize he’s singing something. I can’t recognize it at first, but as I get nearer, I can hear some of the lyrics—"Where did my father go, my father just and right? A pawn in black strikes down a pawn in white. In rooms are weeps and in the gardens no-one’s seen…" I open the door and see Joel standing in front of a photograph of Hanoch Levin, singing with the boom-box in the room.
"Joel, what are you doing?" I ask, but he doesn’t respond. I try again, and he only sings louder, so I wait for him to finish while I take a look at the room. It has only candles producing a solemn orange light. For some reason, all the furniture seems somewhat smaller now. On the room in front of the door there’s the big photograph of Hanoch Levin, with red everlastings underneath it and with Joel in front of it. Besides the picture there’s a little boom-box from which some female singer is singing the same song as Joel, but in a different language. Finally, the song is over. Joel turns off the boom box.
"Joel, what on earth are you doing?"
Joel sighs and looks at me with a sad look. "Did you know Hanoch Levin died just a few days ago?"
I look at him somewhat amazed. "Really? How?"
We both grow silent for a while. "So this is some sort of funeral you’re having?" I ask.
"Uh-huh. This song I just sung was his poem Checkmate, from You, Me and the Next War."
"O-h, now I understand why it sounded so familiar!"
"Yup." We grow silent again. Suddenly, he says, "Say, wanna help me?"
"W-What?" I am a little startled. That’s quite a funny thing to ask for.
"Help me. Come on, just stand in front of the picture and improvise some obituary."
"I-I don’t know, it sounds kinda weird…"
"Come on, give it a shot."
Hesitating a little, I decide to try it. I slowly step in front of the picture, trying to stop the urge to laugh at the awkwardness of the situation, and start talking about Levin’s biography roughly. I mention his works, talking about their importance, et cetera. Then I mention he was a great writer and his death is a great loss to us all, and go back to Joel’s side.
"How was it?" I ask.
"You were quite good," Joel says.
We turn silent for a few seconds, and then I say, "Death comes to one much faster than he thinks."
We turn silent again, then Joel starts muttering something in an unclear language. "Joel?" I say.
This time, he says quickly, "Qadish."
"Oh…" I say. I wait for him to finish, but quickly lose my patience. "I have to go now, I’ll see you later," I whisper and get out of the house.
Wow, I think this is the most awkward scenes in my life, I think. Joel might’ve just outdone himself, after the incident with the Shepardic bullies a few months ago. Then I start laughing. Heh, Joel has quite a sense of humor, doesn’t he…
WE’RE ALL IN HIGH-SCHOOL now. The sheep left after two years of following Joel and doing his bidding; his family left for Utah (of I remember correctly). Rick and Angie are with Joel and myself in the same homeroom, history and biology classes; Rick, Joel and I all take literature and English together; Angie takes art, I take physics and A-level math, Rick takes chemistry and, for some reason, Joel takes Latin. (I take French and Ricky and Angie take Spanish as a second language.) Can’t recall the rest of our courses at the moment.
Joel still does theological arguments against religious groups in school, getting the name of an anti-Christ and a Dajjal. He doesn’t argue against Buddhists and Satanist, claiming "they’re OK." I think he said the same about pagans, or maybe certain types of pagans.
His favorites, however, are the Jews. I’ve seen many of his arguments (this did not require having to hide on trees, and they almost never descended to physical fighting), and those against Jews were his hardest. They have a very strong reasoning Joel has trouble finding flaws in. It’s something like this:
– All of generation a1 received the Torah in the Exodus.
– Generation a2 received the Torah from their parents, as part of a commandment of teaching your children the Torah and of the event at Mt. Sinai. They passed it on to the current generation an.
– The Torah says in itself that it was given after the Exodus up to the event at Mt. Sinai wholly and that modifying its text is strictly prohibited, so it couldn’t have been modified, or everyone would have noticed it.
– The Torah couldn't have come to people’s lives anytime between generation a1 or beforehand of the time the Torah was said to have been given and the present generation an, or it would require lying to the entire hypothetic generation ak that they were taught about the event at Mt. Sinai by the previous generation ak-1, which was taught the same thing by the preceding generation ak-2, and so on till generation a1.
– The Torah, as physical writing and not an oral tradition, is mentioned from the Torah itself, through the Book of Jesus Nave and the following books, up to the Book of Kings, which has already been proven as depicting real events, so the Torah even has a recording of being assed in its proven as original form.
Q. E. D.: the Jewish religion is the true laws given by the existing God.
That was, quite roughly, the proof. I'm not going to go into the further points each side made. Joel was quite scared, but they said, "Don’t worry. Only Jews are obligated to do all the 613 commandments. You can get to the next world by doing only 7. You don’t even have to worship God, as long as you don’t worship anyone or anything else." Luckily, he found in the Second Book of Kings an indication of the proof by induction being incomplete, and their argument about Judaism proceeded.
One day I decide to ask him, "Say, Joel, what do you think about the Jews?"
Joel exhales and sits in silence, looking pensive.
"We have a rather complex relationship," he says. "You see, Jews don’t force their religion on non-Jews. Not only that, but they use less demagogy than other religions. Despite seeing themselves as inferior in intellect and intelligence to God, they still see much importance in people using reason."
"Interesting," I say. "But…?"
"But that’s just the problem. The fact they think they are the only ones obligated to their laws is just a form of snobbism and leads to racism. The fact they are so rational makes their demagogy much more dangerous."
"But my biggest problem with them is that other people find them so enlightened and smart, even though they’re basically just really loud. I don’t know if the American mentality and the Roman condemning of ‘bottomers’ are the ones to blame, but if I’m not mistaken, the Jews were the first people who practiced condemning and even execution of gays as a standard norm and the first to practice routine full circumcision. They might just be the ones to blame for me being circumcised and having more trouble dating and having sex with boys."
"Hmm… Inte—w-waitasec!" I say. "You-you’re gay?!"
"Nope, bi. Why, is there a problem?"
To be honest, despite my detesting of religion and dogma, homosexuality always looked "wrong" to me. Maybe it’s because of education, maybe culture, I don’t know. The point is, I’m quite embarrassed.
I just try to digest the idea in silence for a while, then I say, "I’m OK with that. Really." And it’s no lie. "Heh, now I can say I have a bi friend to whomever accuses me of homophobia!" I add.
His response sounded rather cold. I thought he didn’t believe me (I was OK, but still wasn’t very affectionate towards the concept). I was worried I’d offended him, till Rick and Angie told me he was cold to them, too.
It was only several days later we found out it was because he’d found his father in the kitchen that morning with his neck slashed.
A YEAR PASSED, AND NOW we’re 11th-graders. Now I’m walking down the street leading to my house, pondering about an argument Joel and I had about a book we’ve read named Battle Royale (recommended if you’ve a strong stomach). The book was about 42 9th graders fighting on an Island to the death for 3 days. Joel and I discussed who’d stay alive last: I said it’s mainly good intentions and just some "practical" thought which makes one win, Joel said the one who survives must be the most ruthless and most fit.
"Nearly everyone was like that on the Island," he said. "And you know just how it turned out."
"What about the final stage?" I protested.
"Blind luck. Not only that, he was outnumbered, and one of them was experienced."
Quite a strong point. Hmm…
"But that’s just the book. What’ll happen in reality?" I asked. Folly.
"Reality would’ve given him a bigger chance," Joel replies. "In reality, he would’ve won for sure." Then he added, "You’ve known me since kindergarten and you’re still so naïve."
All this is now running through my head. I honestly don’t know. This would probably trouble me enough to avoid my sleep.
I walk into a nearby park and sit on a bench, pondering, running various historic and recent events from both sides, but it seems that my side becomes ridiculous upon thinking about the pre-WWII times, the Holocausts and the Holodomor.
Suddenly I look to my right and get startled when I see I didn’t notice the brown & black cat, sitting on the bench, staring blankly at the sky with hollow, glacier eyes. By the position of his hand and the pigeons and ravens eating by his feet, I can figure he was feeding the birds, but went into a depressive daze without noticing the entire piece of bread fell out of his hand.
"Uh… Are you alright?" I try to ask him
He sits unresponsively for a few seconds, then says blankly, "They left me. All of them, from first to last… How… How…"
"What?" I try to understand, and ask again, "Hey, are you alright?"
After two seconds he partially snaps out of it, turns his head to me, says, "Wha…?" surprised, then says, "No, not really."
"What is it? You seem awful. Maybe I can help." (Honestly, I have no idea what’s gotten into me—one second I see altruism as a mortal risk, the next one I’m offering a complete stranger my assistance!)
However, after a few more seconds postponement, he replies, "No thanks. I don’t want to talk about it."
I think a little, then I say, "Well, I don’t know you and I don’t know why you’re so sad, but for some reason you look like you have an amazing will-power, and you can overcome whatever got you down." I honestly don’t know why I said it. But for some reason, I feel he’s really like that.
We just sit there for a while, motionless, then a smile starts spreading on his lips, and he says, "Thank you so much."
I start smiling too. This smile and these words are worth everything. Fuck you, Joel.
"What’s your name?" I ask him.
"Matthew Gein. Call me Matt."
"Nice to meet you, Matthew-Gein-Call-Me-Matt, I’m Artimus-Crowly-Call-Me-Artie."
"Hehe, nice to meet you too, Nice-To-Meet-You-Matthew-Gein-Call-Me-Matt-I’m-Artimus-Crowley-Call-Me-Artie."
We both laugh and begin to chat. He’s very nice and very cute (and I don’t mean that in a gay sense), but he’s excessively naïve and it’s somewhat frustrating. Plus, he’s religious—religious Shepardic. But I honestly don’t want to ruin his mood now.
"Listen," I say. "You know the little theater by the town center?"
"You mean the one that got closed for a few days because of the drugs found there? The one that became a whorehouse after closing time?"
"Yes, that one," I say before he mentions other unpleasant occasions. "The guys responsible were fired, and the manager’s looking for new employees. Wanna come try getting a job there?"
"I’d be glad to," he says, "but I’m kinda shy…"
"Oh well. Pity, You look like a nice guy, But come if you change your mind."
"OK. Waitasec, what’s the time?"
I look at my watch and tell him.
"Oh no! I have to go home! I have tons of homework!!"
"You’re right, I should get going too. See you later, Matthew-Gein-Call-Me-Matt."
"Hehe, see ya, Nice-To-Meet-You-Matthew-Gein-Call-Me-Matt-I’m-Artimus-Crowley-Call-Me-Artie."
FINALLY OVER! WE ALL WALK out of the hall where we just had our graduation ceremony and get into the car. Joel’s driving, I’m next to him, and Rick and Angie are making sounds I prefer not knowing of what on the back seats.
We reach Joel’s place. His mother is out; she took his brother Julian to the hospital (Joel said it broke).
Inside his house there are already Joel’s other guests—a skunk wearing pink I recently saw at the theater, the Satanist sheep who used to idolize Joel, a peculiarly familiar-looking female hamster, and several others. There’s a funny-looking rabbit-wolf hybrid who was flirting with a blushing white kitsune and an amused black cat (who was wearing, for some reason, black 18th-century clothes). He eventually takes the kitsune with a naughty smile to one of the rooms, leaving the black cat to read a little black book (I couldn’t recognize it; it appeared to be in some foreign language), and leaving me to wonder why the wolf-rabbit looked so familiar.
The party was nice. Everyone said "congratulations", the skunk was hitting on every guy present (and groped a few of their asses), and the sheep served drinks. The wolf-rabbit, who came back with the kitsune, laughed for some reason when he saw Joel and developed a long conversation with him, then went aside and began drawing him; the kitsune looked around for someone till the cat said that "Matt’s not here"; and the cat himself looked at everyone with the same amusement the wolf-rabbit and the kitsune looked at him, but shed a tear and hugged me when he saw me. It was awkward, but nice.
Now only we are here: Joel, Nicole (the gay skunk), the sheep, Rick, Angie and myself. Joel gets up, says, "Excuse me," puts on a Red Hot Chilli Peppers disk (starting with "Snow"), then goes to another room and gets some lighters and joints. "Gong rats to us!" he exclaims and starts handing them out.
Everyone around takes some and starts smoking, excluding me. I’m too appalled.
"Joel, what the fuck’s wrong with you?!" I shout. "That’s just the kind of thing that got Ezekiel fired!"
"Oh, shut up," he replies. "Don’t be such a pussy. Dave’s not gonna know, and even if he will, so what? He grows bats in the men’s room, for Chrissake!"
"I think he’d fire us all. He won’t take any chances after Ezekiel. I’m going to get fired because of you. Now stop it."
"Open this ass, Joel, so I could FUCK YOU LIKE YOU’VE NEVER GOT FUCKED BEFORE!!" Nicole suddenly jumps on Joel, groping his ass, and Joel pushes him off and mounts him.
"Oh for Chrissake Joel, do you mind?!" I cry.
"You became an obnoxious pussy, you know that?" he says. "What’s gotten into ya, Artie?"
I punch him in the face.
"You know damn well I won’t tolerate that sentence!!" I yell at him. Everyone turns silent in awe (except laughing Rick). Joel licks the blood off the side of his mouth, then looks at me.
"Leave. And remember this day."
I storm out of the house, slam the door, walk to my house, get to my room, shut the door, crash on the bed, and start crying. Damn, I am a pussy.
ALRIGHT, IT SEEMS I REALLY can’t avoid it now. There was an important chapter I omitted that took place during my middle school, because I had trouble digesting it.
I was 14 when it happened, a little after that "funeral". I came home from school and said "Hey, what’s up?" to Max, as I usually did. My parents scarcely spoke to me more than what was necessary ever since "that time," but Max still did. I honestly loved him, and I still do. That’s why I let him read my books and even some of my writings (my parents didn’t know about it; I always put my books and my writings in my room, so they couldn’t find them at Max’s). We really bonded, even though he wasn’t into the whole "rebellion" thing, seeing how our parents reacted to mine.
Suddenly he slapped me. I was very surprised; we hardly had fights, and even when we did, they weren’t serious and never descended to physical fighting. If he slapped me like that, something absolutely dreadful must’ve happened.
"Max, what’s wrong?" I asked him.
"Don’t act like you don’t know, you Goddamn moron!" He yelled at me. I was feeling very, very confused.
"Don’t know what?" I asked.
"Still doing this dumbass act?" He insisted and brought his face next to mine, adding, "You’re despicable."
"Goddamit, Max, can’t you just tell me?!"
There was a brief pause for several seconds, then he said, "You honestly don’t know. You honestly didn’t notice dad was DYING of CANCER for THREE MONTHS now. You didn’t notice HALF of the fucking income was spent on his medical requirements. You didn’t even notice he STOPPED WORKING because of depression. Dad passed away today of cancer. Artie, are you fucking blind?!"
Needless to say, I’ve never been so shocked in my entire life. Suddenly everything added up—Max’s angry looks, the aspirin appearing and disappearing rapidly, the moaning and weeping from his room at night…
"I… can’t believe it…" I somehow managed to utter. "I’m so sorry…"
"Save it," Max stopped me and drew a sheet of paper. "Just read this."
This is what it said:
I honestly couldn’t be sorrier. For the past three years, we haven’t spoken to each other at all, except for what was necessary. Many times throughout these years, I wanted many times to apologize and end it all, to go back to being on good terms, and every time pride stopped me and turned me the other way. How I hated Pride, and yet, time after time, I embraced her. At any rate, it’s too late now to try to overcome it.
I’m very sorry, Artie. If there’s a netherworld, I must be weeping there as you read this.
Nevertheless, I hope I can make it up to you, at least partially. I recently found in my bedroom a box full of books I used to read as a rebellious teen: Molière’s writings, Lenin’s writings, some Weimarer Republik era avant-garde books, some E. E. Cummings, even Magnus Hircshfeld’s researches.
I now realize it was very wrong on my behalf to try to make you follow the Shepardic dogma, and also very hypocritical. I truly apologize for that, and I hope giving you these books would make it up for you, at least to some extent.
I hope you’ll forgive me and never forget me,
My hand was still enough to read the letter when I started reading, but it trembled so much when I was done I dropped the letter.
"The books are in your room," Max said.
"OK, thanks," I said absent-mindedly. Feeling afloat, I walked in absolute terror to my room.
After less than a year, I was diagnosed with the same type of cancer that killed my father. Because of this, my mother committed suicide on my birthday that year out of depression. Fuck, this is more grotesque, more gruesome than anything anyone could’ve written.
So when I’m told my cancer metastasized and the doctor utters this stupid Geico joke, it’s only natural I attempt to strangle her.
"Artie! Ack! What’re you doing?!" My grandmother shouts. Apparently, as part of my hallucinations, I mistook her for that doctor. I snap out of it and leave her, startled.
"Sorry, grandma," I stutter, blushing. She sighs.
"Go to sleep, Artie. You’ve a test tomorrow."
"Yeah, I really should."
"G’night," I say. She gets out, leaving me to ponder. Max and I have been living here ever since our mother hung herself, and I can’t help but wondering if she really knows us. Then I start wondering if I really know Joel. I’ve known him since kindergarten. We were good friends, we had fights, we made up—I’ve known him basically in any way I could, and yet, I’m far from being certain. I don’t know why, but for some reason, I feel like I missed something very major about him in my reminiscing, or perhaps I simply let it manifest far too subtly than I should have. Oh well.
Not all that you’ve heard of here had, indeed, taken place. I have no intent to tell you how much was true, and how much was invented for dramatic reasons, literary reasons, or just hallucinations caused by my tumors. I’ll leave this speculation to you.
Finally, I sit down and start writing this work you’ve just read, but I’m very tired, so I decide to continue in the morning and go to bed. Good night!