Danny’s Short Story
“Instead of the word ‘love’ there was an enormous heart, a symbol sometimes used by people who have trouble figuring out the difference between words and shapes.”
Lemony Snicket, The Carnivorous Carnival
The morning after Adrian’s mother’s funeral, I really couldn’t stand my own parents. Even the dead one, but I couldn’t imagine the reaction I’d get if I told anyone.
I mean, I’d tell everybody in the world I loved my dad, and in some twisted way I definitely did; I still said prayers every night for him and his birthday’s sometime in May- but since my mom died he just kind of….went away. And I was young when it all happened; I wasn’t even fourteen, actually. So, I never really knew for sure- staring at his ugly, withering, and vacant shell that I could just as easily be- if I missed out on something worth missing or my mom was all there was worth missing. Maybe he was always empty.
My father, Klaus Ritter, who always spoke very rough English even after living with my mom for sixteen years, who never knew a word of German in her life, is a mailman, so he was gone from before sunup to sundown almost every day anyway. And I knew he drank pretty heavily, but in the distant way one knows there’s spiders in the woods or a war in a country ending in –istan. But I know it is his one and only hobby. I see him sometimes if he wakes me by accident early in the morning.
I couldn’t describe him to the cops if they asked me.
My mom, Maria, hung herself sometime on March 11th, three years ago. I found her getting ready for school on the 12th. I don’t remember reacting very much, well, because it wasn’t a shock. She’d been too depressed to get out of bed since that last October. I didn’t even wake my dad for a while, I know that much. But I do remember cutting her down. She’d been a lot more weight than I expected, and she thudded to the tile.
Maybe I dropped her; I was just done. I called the rettungssanitäter (they’re like German EMTs) and made them deal with her.
By that time I had gotten very used to watching everything go wrong. I’d already seen her throw herself down the stairs six weeks pregnant when I was nine, so I was weathered.
But no one ever let me forget what was right. I mean, if there were ever people so great at torture, it was the endlessly positive.
So there have undoubtedly been days I liked my dad better. Things never got worse with him.
After I do all the dishes (my dad doesn’t do dishes, but I don’t mind), I leave a message for Adrian to call me. I know she hates when I text her when I don’t have to. We only text during school.
I don’t tell her how much she means to me, ever. She’d think I’m a homicidal Norman Bates stalker. But she’s my sunshine most of the time.
We met in our freshman English class (and Creative Writing, and Algebra II, but I don’t think Adrian even knew that for a while) during one of those dumb icebreaker things. I remember especially well because I was having a hard time talking through my accent, and ended up pointing to boxes and getting frustrated. Adrian was the only one in the class with green eyes.
Adrian came to sit with me at lunch two days later, and brought along my spitting image, who turned out to be Syd. We’re actually nothing alike except we both love Adrian. But both of us were smart enough to figure out we were gonna need each other if only for a stalemate. But I know he could have Adrian if he tried harder than me. Jeez, he could get Catherine, and she hides knives in her belongings.
Adrian asked me to homecoming in October (and I found out Syd was just about to ask her, so I was walking on especially thin ice), and I almost admitted myself into the psych ward just to get some peace. I was stalking her Facebook, I wouldn’t leave her alone; I bought her a corsage and found a suit and even met her dad- that was terrifying.
I would’ve told her I loved her then if it was socially acceptable. It’s not, apparently.
December the world found out she was bipolar. Actually, there had been little things I’d picked up on, things I remembered way too well from my mom, so when the alleged Big Break took place I wasn’t too terribly shocked. But it was still hard to put on paper that no one had any quick fixes- it made sense in a sick way, though. She was difficult from day one, why should this be any different?
Men are usually after girls just like their mothers, I’m told. If that weren’t a bad thing, in this case.
We were in English, 2nd period, when we both saw everything go sour. We’d barely spoken for days, and she never answered her phone if I tried. Her mom had even said to keep an eye on her. I think it was that the teacher was calling on her and she was just zoning out or something really dumb, but when she didn’t answer, this really stupid kid Ethan said some bad joke about Hellen Keller. After that, the whole class, including myself, sat completely still- it was like watching Frankenstein on mute- and watched Adrian all in one fluid motion stand, swing her backpack easily over her shoulder, and walk over to Ethan’s desk. She shoved his head down on the desk by the back of the neck, told him to go to hell, and spit in his face.
Adrian was gone before anyone knew what had happened.
I don’t really know why, but nobody moved for a few seconds, including Ethan, whose nose was definitely broken. Finally, I got up, looked at the teacher, spluttering, “You’re not even-“
I took off after her. Everyone let me go.
I’d had to run for a long time to catch up to her. She was across the street from the bus stop when I caught up to her.
I yanked her back from the road on a red light, and slammed her up against the side of a building.
“No,” I had said so foolishly, completely breathless and desperate. She tried to push me away with one hand and I pinned both against the building. I was still a lot stronger than her. “Don’t…..you….dare.” I heaved, brushing her hair out of the way.
Adrian swore at me breathlessly, pushing me back and punching at me furiously, but I never moved. I sat her down and we were very quiet for a while, but I never took my eyes off her once, and I made her eat something eventually, and I made her call her mom to say she was all right.
“Everybody knows, Danny.” She said after a while, the first thing she had said in hours.
“Well, I don’t know about that; I knew since the day I met Ethan that he’s a little snot.”
Then, Adrian leaned over and kissed me, really softly, and I knew I was headed down the worst road I could find- but it was so wonderful and I couldn’t resist; no one could’ve in my place.
We decided that that’s the day we officially started dating- December 1st.
I started painting the pictures for our anniversary two weeks ago. I have twenty-eight days and theoretically seven paintings to go. I felt like it was all I was good for- I’d been painting her for a whole year, so I may as well be out about it.
The first one came out very well. My mom found out when I was seven (she was a painter, too), that my perception of the whole red spectrum is completely wrong, so I make sure to read the color names twice before I use them. Well, I have still accidentally painted people with pink hair before. The first one is a full portrait of Adrian. I used a stalker picture I took of her- she was sitting at lunch, talking with her friends. Laughing. I painted without the others in there, because they’re whited out in the photo and I don’t even remember who was there. Whether or not that was a week Ian and Dave were fighting or what have you.
The second one’s hopefully going to be when I found her near the bus, but I’m trying to paint her pinned against the wall. I want the look in her eyes. How angry she was. She wasn’t just angry- she was horrified. She was horrid monster herself. But she wanted me. Maybe not like I wanted her, like I want her, but she did. I hope it turns out good enough for her. I only had so much good paper I could afford.
I work for two hours, until I’ve painted myself thoroughly. Ian called me while I was painting.
“Hey,” I say passively, opening up the windows to air out the paint smell. I never notice it until I finish.
“Hey, do you have guitar picks?”
”Just the three billion you’ve left here.” He laughs. I like Ian. He can be a smart-aleck, but he always means well. And the kid can talk to a snail and make conversation. Ian also owes me two grand for fixing some scratches on his dad’s Mustang when he and Dave snuck it out for a weekend, but I don’t mention it; he feels bad enough. Oh, he also keeps telling me how those home-AIDS tests are ‘revolutionary medicine’ and whatever. Too much information.
“Do you want to get the set list for the Battle of the Bands together today? Dave’s free, too.” Oh, Dave’s always free in your world. I don’t say that part; it’s part of the reason they keep breaking up.
“I was gonna check on Adrian in a bit. I wanna see how she’s holding up.” Ian gets quiet.
“Oh yeah; I-I couldn’t go to the funeral, but we went to the vigil the day after the crash, Danny. It was crazy; you wouldn’t believe how many people were there! II don’t think I’ve ever even met that many people in my life! When you see Adrian, tell her we’re all thinking of her. And we hope she comes back to school soon; Dave said he’ll even catch her up on the Geometry notes.” He adds cheerily.
“Did he really say that?”
“He will when I suggest what a good idea it is.” I roll my eyes, scraping paint out from underneath my nails.
“Whatever you say, powderpuff.”
“Okay, well, tell her we both love her a lot. And you know I’m not just speaking for him.” Ian says moodily.
“I got ya. Hopefully I can get her to come back tomorrow, okay?” He cheers.
“Alright, I gotta go. Love you, bro. See ya.”
It takes me a while to find clean clothes and the keys to my dad’s car. He rides the bus to work, has since he got work. It’s this real rusted-out Taurus, and I try to work on it when I can, but that takes cash. It has four tires, though, so I don’t complain. My dad’s six-foot-three, though, and I already have to push the seat all the way back to fit in, so I have no idea how he ever fit.
Driving through town (Adrian lives on the east side now, I suppose, with the impromptu move), I stop at the market to find flowers, and I pick up a half-dozen double-claws (Adrian’s favorite; the things are kind of growing on me, too), and no one sees me leaving. I accidentally forgot my wallet.
“How is she?” I ask James, coming in their front door and passively watching him snatch the flowers from me.
“Didn’t sleep.” He shrugs, putting them in water. “She’s in her room.”
“You aren’t gonna take credit for my flowers, are you?”
He shoots me a look, “Would I take advantage of your ill-gotten gains, Mr. Pricetag?” He waves the $7.99 tag in my face before dumping it in the trashcan.
“Eh, forgot my wallet.” I shrug.
“Been there, done that. Judy’s gonna get her to go to school tomorrow; she’s about had enough.”
“Yeah, I gather patience is her strong suit.”
“Good joke.” James stands arms akimbo in front of the hall threshold, like we learned in psych class, trying to look larger than he is, arbitrarily guarding me from Adrian’s room. He looks more like an overgrown Boy Scout.
“I can stop by and pick her up, you know. Just to get her out of bed and everything.” I look briefly for a way around him, then realize he isn’t doing it on purpose. He’s just nervous as hell.
“That’d be good. She might need to be dragged. She hasn’t really gotten out of bed for a while.”
James pauses for a long time, almost staring me down. I stare back, then can’t help but look away sheepishly. He stands as close as he can to me without being odd, so close I can smell his aftershave. I think it’s the same stuff Adrian bought for me.
“May I-may I see her?” He nods hurriedly, fumbling out of my way.
“Go-go right ahead, son.” I nod quietly, uncomfortable, as he backs away, and he may have even fully left the apartment, but I don’t remember.
In the few seconds before I knock on Adrian’s door, gathering some sort of haphazard strength, I wonder briefly if I even want to go in. If I should. Maybe it’s better for everyone if I leave right now.
“Come in,” Adrian calls before I have the chance to touch the door, even. I nudge it open with my foot weakly, smiling at the sight of her.
“Hey, sweetie,” She jumps off her bed excitedly, launching into my arms. I catch her with a sharp intake of breath, holding in the smell of her. I kiss her on the cheek hard.
“So, we all decided you’re coming back to school tomorrow.” I tell her immediately. She gives me a look.
“But it’ll be Thursday. That’s weird.”
“Get over it. And Ian and Dave already said they’d help you catch up on homework, because we all know mine’s all wrong, right?” She giggles wonderfully, clutching my waist.
“Yes, that is right.”
“So, deal?” She nods once. I hold tight to her for a bit more, trying to be as usually what I’m not, what I wish I were, what I should be, what everyone else might be, maybe what I would’ve been if my mom were around. Hell, maybe Adrian’s on the same playing field now.
God, that’s a horrid thought. It sends chills up my spine at the thought, in fact.
“Everything is going to be fine, Adrian.” I say.
“Okay,” She just says in blind faith, and it’s all I need.