My mother tells me not to lose the dog. When I tell him Molly is lost, Edward hustles me along like older boys do, into the forest, past the park on the edge of our block. A summer morning sun lets loose oppressive humidity that edges my brow with sweat. We bounce up and over logs and through the creek. He grabs my hand and we swerve into trails. Wood chips fill my shoes and dirt scuffs my sneakers. Edward pulls me on, to behind the baseball fields, we scour up and down the park, and he shows me a broken bench discarded on the trail. Needles litter the ground, for drugs he says and dares me to touch one. I take up his dare.
As we hit the edge of the industrial park, Edward slows and says we can’t search in there. He suggests we swim as a break from searching. We return to his family’s pool and his arms envelope me, thrusting me into the water with his embrace.
We splash and splash about; Molly fades from my mind. I see the adolescent in front of me, hair sprouts loosely under his arms. He is still a boy, but I’m more boyish. A mischievous smile worms its way across my face, and my wet, tossed blonde hair flops with the waves. We forget about the dog and play until the sun sets and our mothers call us for dinner. My mother waves to his. In that moment, I see my mother’s beauty, her high jeans and bobbed curls; I want to run to her and let her lift my small boy body into hers.
Before I leave, Edward hugs me, a lingering embrace, and I think he rubs against me a bit.
My mother tells me to watch the dog, and I lose her. I promise, she was there a moment ago. I find Edward and he assists me. We swim for a long while instead of searching. As the sun goes down, he asks me to come inside and play. I think of my mother and the missing dog, but Edward convinces me, drawing me into his home to the basement. Hollow jade dots the walls, as if a painter dipped a large goldenrod sponge into paint and plotted a trail along the walls. I run my fingers along the plaster, tasting the bumps and grooves. So dry.
The carpet scratches my toes and heels, damp from the pool. Edward jumps over the couch, like it is a low fence, and flicks on the tv. I make my way slowly to the couch, feeling myself move intentionally, all my limbs contracting and extending. I want to lay down on this carpet and stare at the walls, imagine the alternating green and white as holes out of the basement. I want to crawl into one of those holes, deep into the wall, not to the outside but dig to the core of the earth, where I hope, there will be a hot ball of flame and ash. My toes curl to yank at the carpet fibers like I am an ape. I tuck my hands under my arms and hoot. After an eternity, I tumble onto the sofa close to the tv. I don’t know if Edward saw me walk here.
We watch cartoons. An episode ends, a commercial blinks on and Edward suggests we play a game. He sends me upstairs to turn off the lights while he hides. I count up to sixty and use my hands and feet to descend back into the black basement. When I reach the bottom, I see a vast expanse of dark. He is anywhere, under any cover, behind any corner. I look up the stairs, trying to find a way out. A light slides under the door and burns my eyes when I stare.
My hands are out in front as I walk to a pole. I then turn and step on a toy car. “Edward,” I call out. “I give up.” Silence. I hit the couch and fumble my hands down. He yelps. I had poked him in the eye. I win, but now we reverse roles and I hide.
Lights on. Sixty seconds. I try to fit behind the tube tv, but wires bunch and I worry about electric shock. Thirty seconds. I crouch between the couch and the wall, my body curls into a cannonball. He descends the stairs faster than I did; he knows the space. Edward finds me almost immediately. He reaches down between the couch and wall to touch my butt. He apologizes but waits. He squeezes.
Come inside, let’s play. I want to show you something.
Edward stops helping search for our dog. He sits me down in front of the computer, lording behind me for now, his hand on the mouse. He pulls up a video of two people, man and woman, having sex. I hear his breathing grow stronger, and his free hand rub against cloth. I keep my eyes fixed on these people, wondering who they are and how he found them. Edward seems much older than me now. Almost a man. He is a man.
He pauses the video, asking me if I like it. I don’t know.
Let’s play, he says. His tone, his voice bounces in my ears. It is no longer childish, dropping into a sinister tone. He strips behind me, reminding me his parents are away. He slowly touches himself gazing at me, whatever beauty as a boy I possess lives in his eyes. I may be handsome, or cute, but I don’t think I am an object of desire or worthy of a look. My dog is missing and I am lost. I let him take what he wants from me.
He draws me in again. No pretense of play or assistance. Edward asks me over, tells me to strip, and I oblige. He tells me I’m big for my age; I’ve always been tall, I respond. Each time I descend into that basement, the air conditioner smacks me with its hum. A staid, cold air moisturizes my face and body; Edward’ family is rich and central air is a luxury. I use Edward to warm back up. Neither of us sweat; it all never lasts that long. He moans and covers me in a viscous fluid, somewhere between water and paste. He acts surprised each time it squirts, but I lay there imagining that this is my life.
He once asks me if I like it and I mimic the videos he has shown me, saying, oh yeah I love it. I become good at this over time, cosplaying joy; I even begin to enjoy my false excitement. Once or twice, a smile crawls its way about my face; I am making him happy. It is dark so he can’t see I’m enjoying him. Afterward, he wonders aloud to me if we are gay.
My mother takes me shopping for school clothes. She thinks I’m thinning out, encourages me to eat more. We stop at a fried chicken place in the mall food court and I order only waffle fries and a soda. My stomach hurts and my mother pours me some ginger ale.
She walks with me into an Old Navy, picking out tan shorts and light denim jeans for me. As we walk to the changing room, she has about her face a serene joy; I call her crazy under my breath. She wears an orange floral top that lays over her body flatly, like a sack. Her jeans do her body no favors. I wonder, as I walk behind, when my gaze became so harsh.
She hands me the clothes now, plopping them on my forearms. A plaid shirt my father would wear tumbles off the pile. I strip and try on my first outfit. Black jeans and a yellow-red button up. Where my father is during this trip, I don’t remember.
As my fingers climb the clear buttons, my nipple peers out and I imagine Edward suckling at it and my back muscles shake. My mother asks to see me dressed. In my Walmart shin-high grey and white socks, I glide out to show her, stretching my arms out as if to say ta-da! She smiles and tells me I look nice. What do I think?
I watch myself in the podium mirrors stepping up onto the ledge to see better. My feet swim in the socks. I follow my legs and wish the pants stuck closer and didn’t accentuate my knobbed knees. Edward tells me I have good features, but I don’t see them in this outfit. I do imagine him lusting after me if I wore this for him, his hunger hardens, his desire rips off each article, it froths over, he is an inmate and underneath the fabric, his last meal. I follow the patterns in my shirt. It is sticking to my chest and I rub my grumbling stomach. I turn a few degrees to see all angles. My butt looks good in these pants, plump, young. My stomach turns and I retch up the fries and soda onto the new clothes. My mother pays for them all and we leave. I never wear them again.
He hauls me back inside to show me more movies; he asks to try more. I see that he is a man now, he works out, his muscles have grown. His development passes me by and now he locks me down by his pure, masculine size. I like that. Our age difference never alters, but his growth exacerbates the years. What he asks to try begins as painful, it burns, and gives me a rash that I can’t heal in the shower. I find some old baby powder and dab that around begging for relief.
He tells me I never had a dog. I’m the dog now. My pants and grunts are no longer play: I enjoy him. I enjoy his warmth. He notices me, recognizes me when I’m sad or happy. He begins to buy me things with his allowance, picking out clothes or video games for us. I accept them and do what I’m told.
A teacher asks me to lift my head off my desk. I am tired, exhausted and I let him know. The teacher has a sweet face, a young excitement for the profession that exposes how easy he is to push around. He reminds me that school is not a bedroom. I lift my head with an attitude and he proceeds through class.
Before recess, he asks to speak with me. He stands in front of me, hovers over me and asks what is wrong. I remind him I am tired. He tells me that is no excuse to talk back. He asks about home. Before I can answer, my hand reaches out and grabs his crotch, massaging him in my hand. He is far larger than Edward and I imagine it all. He smacks my hand away and calls the principal and guidance counselor.
I sit in the office awaiting my mother. She bursts in and hugs me. Her hair sticks to her forehead with sweat and her blouse sleeves are rolled up like a man’s. I hear yelling, then a woman’s sobs. They call me in. The principal, guidance counselor, and my mother sit at a table with children’s toys strewn across it. My mother begins a monologue: if there is something wrong, even if it feels good in the moment, you need to tell me. You will feel better if you tell me.
I tell her I can’t think of anything. We both leave. She tells my father and we never discuss it.
At some point, I dream I find our dog. I stand in a backyard shrouded by maples, fresh grass staining my feet, a swirl of green and brown. I lean down to pull the grass up and rip it with my fingers. A light breeze blows my hair. I am older, a late teenager. I don’t feel happy, but I feel something, neither joy nor melancholy, for there is a lack, a gap of some kind I can’t place. I want to fill this gap with my body; fly inward onto myself and nestle deep within to find warmth.
My dog saunters towards me. Her shoulder muscles bop up and down in a pleasant rhythm, like a metronome for a novice pianist. The dark scabs of her eyelids fold down, then up. She blinks with an allure only humans know. Her coat shines in the sun, its jet-black sucks all the light, reforms it as nothing, and it bursts forth in waves of glossy fur.
She approaches me and I reach out to massage her behind the ear. She moves to me ever slowly, as if she couldn’t be bothered, like an heiress and I am her suitor. She nuzzles me for a moment then stops. Her eyes jolt up and her head snaps left then right. What’s wrong, girl? Who’s there? She snaps her eyes back to me; her jaw opens and clamps down on my arm. I can’t wake and she bites harder, plunging deeper into my flesh. Her eyes panic, they dart, like she is stuck, their depth shallows. Blood drips, I feel it hot and wet on my flesh. She releases my arm and I finally wake.
I go online and lust after boys my age. Even younger. Older too. I lust, my eyes glazing over in that turquoise light of the PC monitor. I begin to follow boys and men, imagining them in positions Edward taught me, picturing new ways, in darker rooms, more sinister ways to feel alive. I touch myself and then I feel ill, I heave. Sweat glows on my brow amidst the saturating LEDs of the bathroom. It is only a thin hallway, but the walls are a sultry yellow and the cabinets a maroon accent. I run my fingers along their edges daring the wood to prick me, splinter me, make me bleed. I hear the lights buzzing and I hear my own fabricated moaning with Edward, twist, turn into truth. Twist, turn into joy, into euphoria, ecstasy.
At dinner, the three of us sit with steak, broccoli and potato on our fashionable, lacquered plates. I fiddle with the food, I’m not hungry tonight I say. My father mumbles something and my mother’s eyes fill with concern. I ask to get up and go to bed. My mother shouts, you are depressed, what is wrong? You can tell me. Nothing, I say and begin to cry. Please, let me go to bed, I don’t want to eat anymore. Then, my father raises his voice: you sit and finish the meal then you can sleep. So, it is done, no more discussion. I must sit there and try to eat. I do for a while, gently sobbing, commanding myself to chew and swallow. The steak is so tough and the potatoes have gone cold. After a few hours, my mother leaves the table, breathing deeply as she climbs the stairs. I imagine her crying herself to sleep wondering what is wrong with me. I don’t know, I will tell her; I can’t tell you, I will say to myself. My father doesn’t ask if I need anything, he plants there, silent. He is the boss, this tough love will fix you. I fall asleep with food in my mouth, unable to swallow, my head bobbing like a baby at nap time. I feel my father lift me, remove the food from my mouth. I am a young boy and he lifts me with no effort.
I feel joy the first time he makes me cum. He asks me to shower with him. His parents absent again; where are mine? The bathroom smells sterile as if his mother cleaned it before she left, bleached every corner and scrubbed at all angles for her boy. Nothing but the best. The door doesn’t shut easily as the knob is old, a piece of metal loosed by age. The mirror covers one wall so a few people can observe themselves in it at the same time. Cabinets below store toiletries and the like. Edward pulls two towels from below, so soft, so warm, like fresh bread. I feel scattered, hazy. The suburban comforts intersect with Edward, an object of my fear and admiration. His muscles pulse at me, striking me with desire and loathing. I think he’s hard already. We are both still dressed.
I am lonely with him. He is not there for me, but an idea of me, the physical manifestation of me. He wants my boy body in the shower, not Michael. I realize this feeling and I name it before he lays another finger on me. I take that feeling, it is warm, but it is solitary, like a match approaching the wick of a vanilla candle. I snatch that feeling and plunge it into the shower, into Edward. I will make him want all of me.
I grab him and drop to my knees to begin. He turns on the shower. I decide to make it quick, like a spark. The shower water burns and I turn the knob left, making it hotter, and beg it to shame me red. He begins and I moan because I like it, I tell him I do. He wants me, he wants me. He wants all of me, every last drop. We finish at the same time, but I hide my cum from him in the shower water. He doesn’t need to know I enjoy it, only that I can make him want me more. He must know that I am in control.
My mother asks what is wrong, where is her sweet boy? She offers to buy me something and I ask for the bookstore. We arrive and she orders a coffee, while I duck and dive amongst the aisles. I walk into literature, but am bored by the opaque and literary titles; children’s books appear too bright and rainbow for my tastes. I settle in the travel section and plop down, cross legged onto the floor with a World Atlas. It bursts open. Its girth excites me, weighs down my knees. I stumble into France and see village people with pitchforks and hay bales behind them. They smoke cigarettes and soot piles high on their wrinkled faces. I touch the photo to dig into their wrinkles, I want to excavate the dirt and clean them up. Make them shine again. I want to wrap myself around these people, or have them embrace me. I want to till the rolling hills outside Lyon and burn in the rural sun. The sun. It looks brighter, more effervescent in these photos. The yellow shines with more elegance. Its weight is alluring; the sun has depth.
I turn to Italy and begin in Venice, where the islands are bridged and the history intact, untouched in modernity, or protected by postmodernity. The alleys are cold and the streets smell fishy, sometimes rotten. I head south through the porticos of Bologna, ah a university town if there ever was one, the red, the fat, the learned! But this isn’t it, the limp-lipped edges of the Bolognese push me further south, into the heart, twins suckling at a she-wolf. I am a stray, legging out on the ruins, chasing the sun through the Coliseum’s shadows. I bathe in aqueducts with the amber Italian men, splash myself with the river Tiber, and roll, no tumble down the Seven Hills. I see myself in cinematic fashion, a camera trolling behind me, documenting my adventures.
I flip to Poland and see a babushka. She dresses like my grandmother does in photos, all Old World iron and charm. She owns her body, her hardened, beaten body. The babushka is feared, men fear her more than the gulag. I lift up my shirt to shroud my head like she does. I want to be more terrifying than prison. I am a pugnacious she-beast.
My mother turns the corner; Michael, what are you doing? I slam the book and ask that we leave.
Edward says I look older without the same tone others do. My mother says I look older and means a compliment, she means I am a man, someone to be admired rather than coddled. Edward says it with a sly look in his eye as if he is imagining me different, somewhere else entirely. I try to tell him about the atlas, but he nods and moves on. He looks distracted, gone. I am thirteen.
There exists another boy. Edward speaks about him to me. I see the way he looks at boys younger than me. I hear his toes curl, his pulse rise, and I wish I was them. I want this boy’s name, his address. I will tell him off, warn him, hurt him if I have to. Edward is mine. I am in control. I will leave when I’m good and ready.
I walk to the park alone. I slip out into the night, my parents’ house gives me itches, a sense of choking. I walk onto the soccer field, then through the vacant parking lot. Into the forest now and onto the trails, I trip on a log and lay there staring around me. I feel sleep coming and then something crawling onto my face. I let it stay and call more to join it, all the bugs in the world cover me. After an eternity, I stand again and walk deeper into the woodland; I search for the bench Edward showed me years ago. I don’t find it, but I discover more needles this time. My parents say it’s getting worse, the needles, and they blame kids’ parents for neglect. I finish at the industrial park, hop the fence and sneak in. I am behind a dumpster waiting for a truck to pass by so I am not caught. When it is gone, I sneak more, crouched low, like in the movies. I grab a stick pretending it is a knife, my weapon to penetrate the compound in secret.
I curl around the corner of the first factory and find more trucks, more dumpsters. I turn back and head towards the food makers, rumors tell me there are expired chips in bags in the trash there. Under a blue light, I spot the trash cans overflowing with light green bags, the metallic packaging shimmering to yellow with the blue. I grab a bag, rip it open at the hinges and bite a chip, crispy as new. I saunter, unafraid of being caught alone this late, and turn into the office portion, a set of trailer-looking brown stones, and then a smell curdles in my nostrils. I find her then, ravaged by time and maggots, Molly behind a dumpster, flamed decay.
The gifts stop; my fears grow; my desire subsides; I want him back. I want him to look at me and try to keep me around. I realize I am too old. I lose sleep and he no longer invites me over. He tells me he is finished being a boy and wants to be a man.