Genre: Young Adult Speculative Fiction
Title: THE BOY WHO EATS SADNESS
You always remember your first, they say.
This is all I remember.
Waking up with the taste of coffin air in my mouth.
Hunger like a burning inside me.
I don’t brush my teeth, or clean up. I push my way out of Room 212, through this cut of dusty light. It’s the kind you notice because it’s full of things we don’t normally see with our eyes until the light is shifted just so.
Outside, this old lady is sitting by the pool, smoking. Most days, I would brush past her, and head off motel property, to meet one of my friends in town.
But that hunger, Cabron, that hunger was whispering to me. In my mother’s voice.
And that’s why I did it. Why I crossed the line and why that woman, smoking and crying, why she turned that chlorine pool all salt.
That’s all I remember. Not the taste. Not the comfort. Only my mother’s voice and salt water.
But yeah, of course, Cabron, you knew it would go down like this, didn’t you?
What you told me about husks in Room 212, I’ll tell you, it made a lot more sense the morning after. That old lady, she blew away like one of those old school cartoon desert tumbleweeds—and I started searching the motel for who’s next.
I’m leaning against my hand-me-down Chevy Malibu station wagon’s back bumper, arms crossed, knees braced together. The smell of gasoline in my nose is some screwed up comfort, but it’s still comfort. And I need it today.
My dad clears his throat. I try hard to remember all the reasons this moment should feel so good.
It’s a fact. High school goes down easy for some girls.
That first year I flew sort of under the radar like the other semi-outcasts. The other three, and I’m not exaggerating, were a bit like how I’d picture hell, if I believed in that crap.
Dad clears his throat again and I’m drawn out of my mind and back to the problem at hand. Getting my stuff to college all the way across the country. From Maine to Colorado.
“Looks pretty low to the ground. Don’t you think?” I ask, shifting my weight from the wagon so I can throw a sneakered foot on top of the hitch.
He grabs hold of my arm and pushes me up so I’m balanced on it. He says, “Jump,” and I do.
But I’m not sure why.
I guess this is growing up.
The station wagon’s orange, and old as dirt, but it’s the only car at our house that doesn’t break down. Even dad’s new-to-him truck has been in the shop twice since January. But really, the best thing about the station wagon isn’t that is still has a cassette player when everyone owns iPhones, it’s that it’s all mine. It used to be mom’s. The first thing she bought for herself after she left her parent’s house. The only thing, she says, she held onto from back then, other than me and dad.
Dad lets go of my arm, backs up onto our decidedly not-green lawn. “Looks okay to me.”
He’s about to respond, his head tilted a little off to the left like he does when he’s thinking, when my mom, who is inside the house, in the kitchen probably, starts screaming.
My dad stops.
The world stops.
I choke mid-inhale, waiting, not sure what kind of scream this is. When the noise becomes clear, she’s screaming my name.
While we were fiddling with the U-Haul, mom was baking something she insisted I take when me and dad drive off in the morning.
Dad is about to offer to go inside on my behalf. I know he’ll offer. But he knows I’ll shrug it off.
I jut my chin at my four-year old sister Ori, who is playing on the lawn with an underinflated football. “Stay here,” I order her.
And dad says, “If it’s bad…”
I know what he means so I don’t waste my breath on a response. I run up the three concrete steps leading to the kitchen door, swing the screen open, and catch sight of my mom. She’s covered in blood.
Well, not covered. But there’s enough of the red stuff to turn my stomach.
Blood and me don’t get along. For reasons.
But mom needs my help. Not dad’s. Certainly not Ori’s. My help.
The kitchen is really where my mom’s at her best. Even now—screaming, bloody—this is better than the other options.
I step further into the kitchen. “What did you do?”
Sometimes her vision blurs. Sometimes her hand jerks, her muscles get weak. Sometimes she’s just tired out. Mom’s an ex-junkie and she’s reminded of that every day of her life. I am too.
“The knife… it slipped,” she says.
When I pull her hand close to take a look, I can see her index finger is cut open along the secondary fold line. And it looks deep. Maybe to the bone. I grab a dishtowel from the drawer, but mom says, “Not that one.” So I choose another. They’re all ragged and over-washed so I don’t get why she cares. But there’s no point in upsetting mom. She doesn’t handle stress well.
I take her hand in mine and put pressure on the wound. Her blood is mine, after all.
The first aid cabinet is well stocked with supplies.
I’m trying to get the Band-Aid to hold the edges of the wound closed, when Ori, who doesn’t listen, who doesn’t get any of this, not at all, comes running into the kitchen, the football tucked under one arm. She has dirt smeared under her eyes like the Friday night Hamlin High footballers do.
Since she started doing this a few months ago, I haven’t had the heart to tell her they use this grease stuff, not actual dirt.
Both mom and I yell at the same time: “Stop.”
Ori freezes on the spot, like it’s some kind of weird game. But then her face slips. She starts to cry, tracks running through the dirt until she looks like we don’t bathe her.
I guess it sounds as if we’re mad at her. But we’re not.
Mom’s upset about all the blood. I’m only angry—and a bit nauseated—and taking it out on my kid sister like I might hate her.
When Ori was born, the only member of the Remy family who cried was Mom. But I think that’s because she refused painkillers, and not because she was so happy she was getting a chance to do this daughter thing again, and to do it right this time.
But that’s just me.
I used to think this anger would, I don’t know, fade. Instead, something inside me simmers, even now. Last summer I convinced myself it was a little devil, or The Devil himself, brewing inside of me. And I can’t tell you how much I liked thinking the anger didn’t really belong to me.
Blaming it on someone—something—else felt damn good.
I’m holding my mom’s hand too tight, listening to Ori cry. Mom’s whole body tightens, as if anger transfers from body to body easy as all that.