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Stella, There Are People Living In The Refrigerator

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  Nearly a year ago, when he was twelve and spent many days pulling up grass in the park, an old man with no name and grey striped in his beard had sat next to him. He began a scattered tangent on the Tibetan monks and their ways of coping with the devilish tricks of life and the universe. He spoke of their belief on your energy coming back to you. He had said, his eyes still never touching Hyde’s own, that when you do good things you will receive them back later on. The same ideology held for bad things.

  Hyde didn't think he'd done anything awful and worthy of cosmic punishment, yet here he is, scuffing his worn sneakers against the Forman’s cement walkway. Watching the ants vine themselves past his imposing feet and bury themselves between the cracks in the snow feathered ground. Did bugs get punished? Maybe. God doesn't care about bugs anyway, they all die.

  Eric, on the other hand was inside, probably getting a sandwich made for him (with the crusts cut off, Kitty plans to keep him perpetually six years old). And Hyde was stuck out here on orders to ‘come in when he's done being a big baby’. The flaw in this was Hyde was NOT being a baby, a bitch, or a child. He had perfectly good reasons, and a completely normal reaction to those reasons, thank you very much.

  Just because Eric was carried everywhere on a satin pillow didn't mean he was a damn saint, anyway. And so no, Hyde would not be going inside and sitting down next to Forman for an after school snack like nothing happened.

  With his mind made up he stands, his eyes still following the line of bugs. He wonders what it would be like to be one of them. He feels huge.

 

 

 

  A few fat snowflakes fall lazily as he makes his way down the street to his house. The orange sunset is slowly wrapping around the chicken wire fence forgotten and left to rust in a neighbor’s yard.

  He feels cold in a way the snow isn't capable of. He swats at the pestering thoughts of earlier, stupid. What a restless brain he's got.

  He can still see the way Forman’s lips curled in a smile as he laughed, his eyes bright and dusky green in the soft winter sun, just before Hyde’s fist found his jaw.

  He had staggered back, fingers cupping his cheek. He looked at Hyde as if he'd gone mental, like he hadn't deserved it. He probably believed he didn't.

  His house comes into view, Edna was gone the past week, he'd been at the Forman’s on account of his mother's inability to keep up with the heat bill. He rode it out until he woke up one night with blue under his fingernails. He thought Mrs. Forman would never forgive him for losing an appendage out of his own stubbornness. Wrong choices, life was all a series of wrong choices.

 

 

  He closes the door behind him, only feeling a slight release from the cold of outside. He tucks his hands under his arms. He doesn't shiver, he won't let himself.

  He just stands there for a few moments, as if the torn couch and duct taped coffee table decorated in cigarette butts would morph into a nicer living room, one that he couldn't see his breath in.

  He almost expected Edna to be there, passed out on the plaid sofa. She wasn't, she was in another world. Maybe Hyde was, too.

  He walks over and drops himself in the chair he briefly remembers his father sleeping in night after night so long ago.

  With a sigh he digs in the pocket of his coat, hand patched by Kitty. He claws out his lighter with icy fingers and leans in to the table to pluck out one of the half smoked cigarettes from the overflowing ashtray. He pops it between his lips and sucks in as he lights.

  With the dim sun filtering through the window and his mind growing cloudy and light he thinks of earlier. He doesn't feel safe here, even in his thoughts, but he can't stop them.

  They had been fileing out the doors of their school, talking about one of Eric’s stupid comic books and his idea of trying to sled down the alley between Thrifty White Pharmacy and that old apartment building in town. All Hyde had said was that said alley led directly into the cross traffic of the street and that maybe it wasn't the best idea. That made Eric laugh and exclaim, ‘what are you some kind of pansy?’. So of course Hyde punched him.

  He was not a fucking pansy, he was more of a man than Forman could ever be. He wasn't some weak bitch, he knew it and Eric did too.

  He recalls, from somewhere very far away, his mother's slurred jabs. They don't matter anymore. They don't know him, those words. This is all just a mirage, anyway.

 

 

 

  It had been weeks since he’d seen his mother, nothing unusual. Life goes on like it always has. He had relented after much pleading from Eric to come home and stay for a while. Hyde didn't apologize for hitting him, Eric didn't ask him to.

  He found himself staring up at Eric’s snow white ceiling counting in his head the ticks of the clock’s hand moving past each second. It was Eric's stupid superman alarm perched on his nightstand. It didn't matter, time wasn't real. These seconds stacking in his mind, all a joke.

  His fingers tap against his thigh, they aren't cold. He digs his nails into the fabric of his borrowed pajama pants. He lets them hurt.

 

 

-

 

 

  Hyde has lived in Wisconsin for his whole sixteen years and he still curses the sky every winter. He yanks the collar of his jacket over his face to block the unforgiving wind.

  His heavy boots mark fresh tracks to the Forman’s basement door and he stomps all the collected snow from them on the rug before stepping inside.

  The basement is empty, it feels cold like this. A different cold than the bitter wind outside. The feeling is home to Hyde, it lives in him.

  He stands there for a moment, the only sounds are the wrath of the wind and the laughter of God in his ear.

  He makes his way to the boiler room, his room. When he gets inside he closes the door behind him, he doesn't let it make a sound.

  His makeshift bed welcomes his weight with a droning yelp and he shifts so his view is square on the ceiling. It's a dull grey.

  He drags his hands down over his eyes and lets himself see the black behind his lids. It's a whole different world over there.

  With a sigh out through his nose he rolls over and reaches blindly under his cot. He pushes past a few forgotten records and a leather bag filled with an assortment of items he finds valuable. His fingers brush the side of an old shoe box and he grabs at it to drag it out. He picks it up and places it softly on his bed.

  He simply looks at it for a moment. He lets it wait for him. His thumb traces the edge of the lid and he lifts it up before he can decide to shove it back down under his cot. Pictures greet him, a few thrown aimlessly in a stack.

  He picks up the first one, him and Donna so long ago. Her smile was big and bright, his was only in his eyes. He set that one beside him. The next one showed Eric with a birthday hat on his head, partially hidden behind his back Hyde was holding his hands up next to Eric's head, double peace signs displayed. He puts that one back carefully and traces a finger over the photo underneath. He can feel his heart thrumming in his fingertips. He slides the picture out of the box, he's careful. There was already a worn hole in the bottom corner. In it was his mother, her eyes were clear and bright, she had a different soul. Hyde was sat in her lap, he was too young to remember the photo being taken. He was smiling up at her. Such a stupid little boy, unthinking.

  The picture felt as if it was dropped from another timeline into his hands. He didn't recognize these people, not anymore. It might as well be someone else entirely.

  His fingers tighten against the edges of the paper. Everything was a lie, all of it. He inhales sharply and releases his straining grip in the photo. He assesses the damage, one new crinkle in the top corner. He worries it with his thumb. What careless hands he's got. With one last drag of his index finger down across the browned photograph he places it back in the box in front of him and replaces the cover.

 

 

-

 

 

  He didn't want to go through Lori’s things, he didn't. But before he could stop himself he was shut in her room, his back against the closed door.

  The Forman's were at church, Kitty had roped them into it. Lori was home for Christmas, her blue duffle patterned with big cartoon flowers was thrown haphazardly on her pink bedspread. His fingers curl behind his back, nails scratching at the wood of the bedroom door.

  Even with the knowledge that nobody was home he still crept silently as he could towards the bed. He feels nervous to even make imprints in the carpet. They'll give him away.

  With unthinking hands he reaches forward and drags the zipper of her bag down. He pauses, listening. Nothing but wind in the pipes. He pushes through the bundles of clothes, underwear, and bras. He's not exactly sure what he expects to find, curiosity is deadly. He continues to delve into the various pockets on the cloth lining, only one zips. He opens it and pushes his hand in. He's met with a sharp poke to his finger tip. He pulls out the offender, two condoms. He slips them back in and reaches for the next thing. A folded piece of notebook paper.

  When he unravels it he finds a letter staring back at him. The scrawl looks done by a man, he skips to the bottom where a slightly larger signature is written.

Love, Jack.

  He briefly wonders who Jack is, how Lori knows him. He thinks he knows the answer, how Lori knows any boy. He folds the paper back up and puts it back inside the pocket, behind the condoms just as he found it. She wouldn't notice the difference but he does it anyway.

  Whatever curiosity he felt was gone. He feels itchy and strange. He zips the bag up and turns his back to it.

  Without another thought he opens the door and makes his way downstairs heading to the basement.

  For the rest of the day every look in his direction is accusing, his stomach is tight. Nobody asks him about it. They don't know, but he still can't sleep that night.

 

 

 -

 

 

  Hyde never outgrew his sticky fingers. Even at seventeen he finds himself leaving stores with things he didn't pay for slipped into his jacket.

  He doesn't need to, he has a job now, but his younger self still embodies him sometimes. When he thinks of store owners pulling him aside at ten years old and emptying his pockets of the candy bars he'd stuffed in there for his dinner that night he finds his hands moving on their own. Old habits die hard but bitter wounds live forever.

  He quietly slips out of the back alley door of Point Place Used Books, a copy of Playboy tucked inside his coat.

  As he treads back to the Forman's through the freshly laid snow he can feel the magazine against his abdomen. It feels tight and cold pressed to him.

 

 

  He closes the door to the boiler room as quietly as the rusty hinges will allow him. He stands there for a moment, his head nearly pressed against the door, his hand still clutching the knob.

  With a breath he looks up, even the paint chipped door in front of him looks accusing. He releases the handle and turns to his cot. He eases himself down, willing the old bird not to squeal. He doesn't know why, nobody would be down here to hear him anyway.

  His gaze finds a discarded album leaning against his wall, Physical Graffiti. He traces the cover with his eyes while he reaches in his jacket and pulls out the magazine. He feels the blank stare of the girl posed scandalously on the cover. She sees his soul, he can feel it.

  With a silent mind he looks down to meet her eyes. She's got blond Farrah Fawcett hair, her chest is nearly exposed and she's kneeling with her legs spread. She was wearing a swimsuit but she might as well have been naked, he could see it all.

  He flips open to a random page in the middle. He's greeted with a woman, she was on her back, her legs were spread candidly. He avoids her eyes, focusing on the rest of her body. She was beautiful, soft tanned skin and shaped calves. He runs a fingertip along her exposed leg. His skin feels cold pressed against the paper and he flips to the next page.

  This girl was squatting, bright silver heels the only clothing on her body. She was looking up with big doe eyes at a man in front of her. He was exposed, one hand resting on the back of her head. The other was on his hip.

  Hyde looks at the woman, she was brunette with soft pink skin. She had thin brows with long lashes doting her large brown eyes.

  She was submitted to the man, would do anything he told her. Her moans would be pitched and full of want. Hyde puts his thumb over her face. She was just a body now.

  The man would take her head, pull it towards him. He wouldn't let her take control, she wouldn't try anyway. He was in charge.

  Maybe her hands would stroke up his legs, brush against the hair covering them. He would let her. His moans would be deep, in his throat. He didn't have such large, wanting eyes. His were filled with power. She might take a manicured nail and trace his muscles, the hair leading down his stomach was dark brown and curled.

  Hyde’s hands move on their own, haphazardly tearing the page down the center, splitting the pair. With one last look at the man he crumples him up, a tight ball in his fist.

  Opening his palm he stares at the paper resting on it. It was smaller than a golf ball, a whole man.

  He pops the paper into his mouth and chews it. He can still see the picture behind his eyelids but in a moment it would be gone.

 

 

-

 

 

  His mind is blurred, as if in a dream. Not a bad dream, not a good one either. Just something in a different existence.

  He stares himself deep in the eyes, if he looks close enough he might see his soul. He can't, maybe it's with someone else right now.

  His hands slip off of the counter top. He doesn't feel them fall. He turns around and slides his back down the cabinets until he's sitting.

  The bathroom is lit no less than usual but somehow it's darker. His chest is hollow, his heart must have left him a long time back. He doesn't care, it's better off.

  His eyes refuse to focus and these hands attached to him find his hair and drag through the curls. His head bows and rests against his open palm. He wishes his brain would pick up and disappear like his soul.

  He runs his fingers down over his eyes as he lifts his head, turning to the rest of the room. It's the Forman's guest bath, the one upstairs just outside of Eric's room. Kitty's touch is everywhere. The cream walls and floral shower curtain. His presence takes from its beauty, he makes it heavy and tainted.

  He studies the chipped pink tiles on the bathtub wall, there's built up dirt between them. He can see the secrets of the universe hidden in there.

 

 

 

-

 

 

  The basement gets cold in the winter, especially at night. Hyde doesn't mind, he can't feel it anyway.

  His fingers flip open the hinged top to his lighter and in the same breath snap it back closed. The sound of metal clinking is the only one in the world right now.

  A lit cigarette is stuck between his lips. He breaths in and hears the end splinter. He reaches up and pulls it from his mouth, soft smoke trailing behind.

  He finds himself watching the glowing tip, ash just starting to form. There's an entire city in there, Hyde can see it, it's burning.

 He hears footsteps, they're knocking around above him and he leans back.

  His head falls against the couch and he stares up at the ceiling. It must be Eric, he walks like a girl. The creaking passes over him and he hears the basement door crack open.

  He brings his cigarette up to his lips again as the steps behind him start to cry out. Hyde’s eyes roll back to see Eric making his way down the staircase. He's wearing fleece pajamas, they've got tiny Christmas trees littered on them.

  Eric doesn't say a word as he drops down beside Hyde on the couch and swings his feet up to rest against the spool table.

  Hyde’s eyes close as he blows out smoke and taps his cigarette against the ashtray resting at his side on the arm of the sofa.

  After a moment of silence Hyde cracks one of his eyelids and peers out at Eric. He's staring straight ahead, not out of uncertainty but rather just in a dream. His hands are tugging at a loose string hanging off of his top.

  Hyde almost wonders if he simply sleep walked down here when Eric speaks. His gaze never leaving the spot in front of him.

  “You know…” He starts and Hyde blinks his other eye open, “I think we're all allowed to be happy, even if… even if we have to do things that might make somebody else upset.” His voice sounds far off, maybe underwater.

  Hyde doesn't say anything for a while. Eric doesn't ask him to. He crushes his cigarette and moves his gaze back to the wood ceiling above him. When he does speak it's quiet, hardly loud enough for Eric to hear.

  “You never take that risk,” His voice is raspy, he hasn't used it in a while. Eric shifts beside him.

  “Maybe I should.” He sounds almost questioning. “Maybe you should, too,” He says, stronger this time.

  Hyde doesn't speak for a moment, he lets the words soak into his chest.

  “Maybe.” He says finally. He might even mean it.

  Eric looks at him. It doesn't matter, Hyde doesn't look back. He sees stars hiding in the ceiling, he can't turn away or they might leave him.