He was peaking on acid when he opened his eyes and beheld the most beautiful person in the world. For a moment he could not exactly remember this person’s name. They were the color of red, and love, and light was pouring out of their face, light that was neither bright nor dark, just a perfect washing cleansing light, like walking too far up someone’s driveway to take a shortcut through backyards, and the floodlight snapping on — a light that saw, a light that witnessed. That was this person’s light. This person was saying “What the fuck is wrong with you, trash mouth.”
Intimately he felt his real human brain (distantly subsumed now like a drowned lighthouse keeper beneath the chemical wave of LSD) connect to his nervous system connect to his vocal cords lips teeth tongue. “Eds.”
“How long have you been lying here?”
The most beautiful person in the world knelt beside him in the dewy grass. The light was blinding so he turned his head away. Something touched his shoulder and, because the touch was like the taste of chocolate or otherwise like the Grand Canyon or the fact of space, or like a whale's eye, he instantly started crying. “I think maybe you have a concussion.”
“No,” he said. The terrestrially bound human brain said this while the rest was somewhere else. Like the Real him which was ascending at present to galaxies unknown had left a kind of tape recording behind in its usual flesh case. “Drugs.”
“What drugs, Richie?”
God, the thin note of panic in the reedy voice. Like the most beautiful fucking sound on earth. Angels were all around him wheedling that sound out of those many-eyed waveforms and all for his manifestly undeserving sake.
“Lysergic acid diethylamide.”
“You fucking dropped acid!”
He was bundled to his “feet” somehow against this person’s side. The world — god. Maine. The light — the grass. Everything developing like ninety million polaroid photos at once. Like this he could see the world underneath the world. The utterly translucent nature of reality — though logically he had understood this since the summer he was thirteen — was what had thrown him from his bike and scraped him against the asphalt, maybe about a hundred and thirty thousand years ago. There was a dent. He went through the dent. He opened his eyes and felt the wrong things but not the pain. So he waited, which had evidently been the right idea owing to the miraculous arrival of the most beautiful person in the world. Eddie, he remembered suddenly.
“I can’t believe you fucking dropped acid,” said Eddie. “The fucking chain’s off your bike, dipshit.”
“Richie” — ?? — understood his dad was gonna kill him, because he had just been cajoled into paying to have that very chain fixed at the hippie bike shop in Lewiston. The person this had happened to, who had been very deferential and kind of hung his head and apologized profusely and had been boxed around the ears and talked about loudly by his parents downstairs after the fact (MAYBE WE OUGHT TO TALK TO THE FAMILY DOCTOR AGAIN. MAYBE HIS PRESCRIPTION ISN’T WORKING) so that he could hear in his bedroom where he lay awake unsleeping, was not quite really here. That person was what was in this flesh case usually, he understood.
He allowed himself to be led. More like dragged. The world was all the more beautiful for being fake and because of this he couldn’t stop crying. “You better hope we don’t see those fuckers,” Eddie said. “Or our friends. They’ll never let you live it down.”
“Richie, you look like you’ve fucking… seen god.”
“I don’t remember,” he said, “maybe I did.”
They stumbled onward down the block. He could hardly figure out what to do with his limbs, which were growing other limbs out of them, not exactly human limbs, but almost like plant limbs, but not that either. Something else, not really put-a-name-toable, just tripping him, and the blood soaking into his shirt and shorts, like big dark ink stains, like having pressed a pen for a long time against a sheet of paper, waiting and thinking of what to say.
Eddie said, “Jesus, something’s really wrong with you.”
“Um — ”
“You didn’t make a joke about my mother. Holy fuck, something’s really wrong with you.”
“I’m, Eds, I’m changing.”
“You already went through puberty,” Eddie said. “I can’t stand that again.”
Maybe this was similar. This was also like some other eye inside you opening and seeking patterns. The patterns at that time had mostly been related to girls at school and also to the most beautiful person in the world and also to crying a lot at the sheer inevitability of having to accept assorted monumental responsibilities, even just and especially the monumental responsibility of being a non-child person, the monumental responsibility of living. Also to the omnipresent surprise of unexpected body hair and the Dreams. This was different. These patterns were like a flip book of M.C. Escher prints.
“When did you take it,” Eddie asked, adeptly realizing that any attempt at conversation was going to be basically moot owing to the drastically different speeds at which each of their minds were moving. “Have you been drinking water?”
School. A shiver approached him vibrating through the torn pieces. The Prison. His Alcatraz — his Chateau D’If. In ninth period English the flesh case had been bouncing its knee too violently to focus on Slaughterhouse-Five out of sheer anticipation of dropping the tab then contained in his shirt pocket and now contained in his subatomic particulars. Staring out across the manicured lawn into the woods suffused in yearning, as was customary.
“And water? Have you been drinking water?”
He was going to have to be thinking of himself by that name for a while even if it felt not-quite-the-right-size, and itchy on the inside against his wrists and the back of his neck, like his wool winter coat from childhood.
“I went to the water fountain at Kinney Park,” he remembered. Light moving through the glass and green.
“Oh my god. You’re going to get giardia on top of everything.”
They moved into and out of the quartzite rings of streetlight. In their houses the people were lit by the blue glow of their televisions. These interior lights bled out around the curtains onto the manicured lawns. These fucking people were immersed in the present particulars. They watched the news and sitcoms. They didn’t know shit!
“You remember the rule about my house, right,” Eddie asked him. The person who was usually here did a lot of fussing and piss-taking about said rule. Wisely, Eddie assumed the answer was no. “Don’t say a fucking word until we’re in my room. And skip the third step.”
He paused; they looked up. The TV glow wafted out onto the porch into the milky night. The moon beset the house. Van Gogh was painting this thing like he was fucking Bob Ross. He stumbled back and Eddie caught him. “Jesus fucking Christ,” he said. “Come on.”
“But — ”
“I know. But you need to come inside now because you’re bleeding everywhere.”
Looking down felt like looking off the edge of the Eiffel Tower. In the dewy moonlight he watched a drop of blood slide over the outside of his right ankle and the side of his sneaker and onto the slate walkway. For some reason his heart seized, as though someone had reached inside him and clenched it in a fist.
He looked to Eddie desperately. “I know,” he said again. “Come on.”
They went inside. Eddie propped him up against the bookcase in the foyer and closed and locked the door soundlessly. There was a kind of postmodern assemblage of an un-person like a scarecrow made of straw and fear asleep in a reclining chair before the television which bathed her in the squalid illuminations of late-night broadcast capitalism. Behind her eyelids her mind was moving with the sounds of the voices from the box beamed into this very room by means of sonic rays. ARE YOU FRUSTRATED WITH YOUR ORDINARY MOP?
Someone grasped him by the scruff of the neck like an alleycat with kittens and dragged him from the threshold. It was Eddie, who fixed him directly in the eyes with a kind of blood covenant. His mouth made the shapes of the words third step. Somehow he remembered this important secret and their tandem conquering of the majestic summit was uneventful. Upstairs he was brought down a dark hall and into a room. The light threw on — posters on the wall, record player propped open, overflowing bookcase. The bed was neatly made, and Eddie threw him on it. He nearly screamed because it was so good. It smelled like locker room and lavender and heaven. Basically like Eddie’s hair. Being near him in the summer. He buried his face in it and cried some more.
“You’re getting fucking — blood — all over everything, my god,” Eddie stage-whispered, pulling Richie’s shoes off. “You’re disgusting, you know that?”
God, yeah, he thought he said, “yeah, I know.”
“Come on.” Eddie shoved him by the hurt shoulder, which was just the shoulder that felt kind of light and separate because pain was happening to the recycled atoms which constituted his body in roughly the fourth century B.C.E. He understood he was feeling the memory of “his” subatomic particles (ownership in such a context being even more of a robust fiction than normal) being marched across Caledonia in the middle Iron Age by the centurion invaders. “Recovery position,” Eddie said, dragging back whatever pieces of his mind remained adhered to the “present.” “Let’s go.”
“Eds — ”
“Do you want to choke on your own fucking vomit? Take your clothes off before you get sepsis.”
Richie sat up. Oil and water shifted inside his head. “Don’t look at me,” he said. It seemed like unbuttoning his shirt might unloose some other things. Maybe all those extra limbs that had been happening a few thousand years ago. This was like an Arthurian grail quest trial — s/tripping both physically and emotionally in front of the most beautiful person in the world, who was presently staring at him with arms crossed as the very picture of extreme disappointment… Like some stained glass unearthed from the wreckage of a bombed-out chapel, rinsed of ash with holy water, glowing, transcendent, immortal innocence and suffocating love, not without its air of judgement. He sort of felt like cowering. That was what you were supposed to do before something of such consequence, right? “Maybe put some music on,” Richie managed.
Eddie looked into the collar of his shirt. “Fine,” he said. He went in the corner to his milk crate of records and crouched and pulled out the favorite record of all time of the boy called Richie Tozier, the Modern Lovers’ self-titled LP from 1976.
Don’t do it, Richie thought so hard he almost said, crying, don’t put it on, I don’t deserve it. Eddie fucking did, to spite him. Roadrunner Roadrunner going Faster Miles an Hour…
He loved this song. He was this song. The shape of the sound was with them in the room, a little distorted by the tinny speakers of Eddie’s shabby old record player. Still it was an embraceable sound and he embraced it. He held it against himself and it was warm. It recognized itself in himself. I'm in Love with the radio on — it helps me from being Lonely late at night —
“Get naked, Tozier,” Eddie said, coming back to the bedside. Vision of him wobbled through the reverie. Richie noticed for the first time he must either have shattered one of the lenses of his glasses in the fall from his bike or else reality was fragmenting somewhat more jaggedly than usual. “I’m not fucking kidding.”
He had to help Richie with the buttons on his shirt. He wouldn’t touch the equivalent ones on Richie’s cutoff canvas shorts. Basically all the blood in his entire body was in his face. Fair because all of Richie’s was in his right side which was basically turning inside out. The blood-soaked fabric left this brownish slug trail on him. Eddie pushed the bloody clothes into a pile with the toe of his sneaker and endeavored with maximal heroism to keep the tender fawn-color gaze above the waist of Richie's underwear, or otherwise in the vicinity of his ravaged knees. He beheld the wounds with that same holy judgement and Richie felt like a leper.
“How fast were you going?”
Eddie retreated to the closet down the hall where his mother kept all the supplies necessary for any ailment up to and including childbirth and a puncture wound through the eye (simultaneously), and returned in ninety seven years with an armful of assorted gauzes and antiseptics. Richie had laid down in the bed in attempt to quell these infinite seconds of unbearable tribulation with that smell, Eddie’s hair smell, and the ghost prints of old glow-in-the-dark constellations on the ceiling, which Eddie had taken down with a butter knife when he felt like he’d grown out of them (another flash of their thirteenth summer), and Jonathan Richman shouting, I’ll go insane if you won’t sleep with me, I’ll still be with you…
“What’s wrong,” Eddie said. Then he seemed to realize this was a stupid question. “Recovery position,” he said again. He moved Richie by the shoulder, moderately gentler now that the wound’s hideousness was manifestly apparent. “Come on.”
“Eds,” Richie said, as Eddie carefully removed his glasses from his face and set them on the bedside table, “this album makes me feel.”
“Makes you feel what?”
“It just makes me feel.”
Eddie pulled over the milk crate with his records in it and put one of his big National Geographic photo books on top of it, and then he sat on it and scooted it close to the bed. “This is gonna hurt,” he said, upending a bottle of hydrogen peroxide into a cluster of cotton balls.
“Nothing hurts,” said Richie. He wished he could share at least this part of it.
Eddie pressed the cotton balls into the scrape where it was deepest at Richie’s shoulder. Somewhere, something was reaching hot ice into that really tender numbness like in the socket of a lost tooth. He was aware of this happening, and he felt that he could watch the feeling itself move before his eyes like a yellow flower blooming and dying at the same time. Eddie daubed the dressing along the wound, carefully watching his face. “What if it doesn’t come back,” Richie asked him.
“It will. Otherwise — well, the CIA wouldn’t have given up on LSD trials if it had that kind of practical application.”
He dropped the bloody mop like a dead rose on the pile of Richie’s clothes and assembled a fresh one.
“It’s going to hurt a lot, Richie,” he said worriedly, “you’re really banged up.” With monumental tenderness he held the inside of Richie’s elbow and bent it away from his upper arm. Bones slid against one another. “Does that hurt?”
“I think it would. Should.”
“Might be broken. We can make you a sling.”
Richie closed his eyes. “You broke your arm,” he said.
“I did.” His steadying, meditative breath shook the world. Was the world, breathing. Oxygen and carbon exchange. A few weeks ago, stoned in his room, he had spent a long time thinking about the grainy photograph of the Amazon rainforest in his biology textbook, which had identified the region as ‘the lungs of the world.’ This factoid being obviously false given Eddie’s lungs being the lungs of the world. “Four summers ago,” Eddie went on, his voice kind of fear-sounding, and Richie was obliged to dig himself out of the sweaty mazelike understory of palms and rubber and snakes to remember exactly what he was talking about.
“I don’t remember how,” he remembered. Remembering the unremembering. The fact of the unremembering was what he thought about a lot of the time when he was bored in English class. “I thought maybe I would.”
Eddie hesitated. When his touch returned it was at the topside of Richie’s hip at the hem of his boxers, picking a piece of gravel out of the skin with his smallest fingernail. “You shouldn’t try to remember,” he said. “Your brain builds walls for a reason.”
Funny to hear as the drug continued to wend its way like a battering ram through walls Richie hadn’t even known his mind contained. Maybe it was going to come around to this one last. Thinking about even its hypothetical potentiality frightened his eyes open. Eddie was applying a dollop of bacitracin ointment to the soft pad of a teal band-aid with a q-tip, and then he smoothed it over the skinless monadnock of Richie’s ankle. When he looked up something about Richie’s expression must have given him pause. “Just look at me,” he said. “Listen to me, okay?”
His brain was opening up into the memory of why this was familiar. He tried to throw his entire consciousness over it, like — a rift in the sidewalk — “Okay,” he said.
He was also listening to Jonathan Richman, who was singing, When You get Out… of the Hospital… Let Me Back Into Your Life…
“Where’d you get it from? The acid?”
“She still speaks to you after hamster-gate?”
“Methylphenidates,” Richie half-explained. “On trade.”
“Is that why you’ve been so fucking insufferable,” Eddie kind of wondered aloud. But he was taping a gauze pad to Richie’s knee with extreme tenderness, smoothing his thumb over the white medical tape to gentle the rough spots. “You know, they prescribe you those pills for you to take.”
He leaned very close to bandage the deep scrape at Richie’s shoulder. The pale golden bedside lamp cast up into his eyes from underneath and they were — the first summoned metaphor of chocolate melting in a double boiler was weird and pedantic and not fully accurate. Things moved in them, and they moved into Richie’s eyes.
I’m in Love with this power that shows through… Jonathan Richman sang on the stereo.
“Is it okay if I touch your face?”
“My face?” Basically he had forgotten he had one, except it was sticky when he put his own hand to his cheek. Something deep and blunt felt cutting through him to his jaw.
“Did you ever read my Batman comics,” Eddie said. “You know Two-Face?”
“I don’t read DC,” Richie reminded him.
“Fine, you pretentious dickbag.”
Part of being the most beautiful person in the world was that he could talk like this but act so sweet. He could get away with it. To Richie it was like sneaking his mother’s high-proof rum over to Bill’s house by means of siphoning a few glugs of it into a gallon bottle of cream soda. Tooth-achingly sweet and then it scoured all your soft insides out like swallowed mouthwash. The helpless mental extension of the metaphor kind of blurred what was happening in real life, which was that Eddie sat up on the bed and carefully arranged Richie’s head into his lap. Holy Jesus god. Just his laundry detergent, and grass and rain. His heartbeat in his thigh in the very old jeans which were very soft. Richie felt incredibly small. He wanted to curl up there and die. The world was this room and had only ever been this room since it exploded into being. He tried to close his eyes but Eddie said, “Nope. Don’t go in there.”
“Eds — ”
“If you have a bad trip and try to jump out my window… my mom will fucking kill us both. Okay? Just be still.”
Stillness literally incompatible with the beingness of life, Richie almost told him. Might have told him if he could have come up with better words. Life cannot be still, and I’m really fucking alive. I’m the most fucking alive possible. Except he also wanted to do everything Eddie said, which had been a weakness of his since they were kids.
Eddie moved his hair away from his ear and pressed a cotton ball along all the sharp ridges of his face. “Are you sure it doesn’t hurt,” he said.
“You’re twitching like it does.”
“It’s happening outside me.”
Eddie leaned over him to grab the bacitracin and another q-tip off the record crate, sandwiching his body around Richie’s head. It was basically like being in the trash crusher from Star Wars if it was made of clouds and lambswool. His heartbeat, which was light, like the flash-bang firework source of that funny perfect light, was everywhere, just everywhere, washing through, like the dentist’s light, around which everything else was no-color, or like the light from a welding torch which blinded you, like the blinding shapeshifting unspeakable of an ocular migraine, twisting like some unthinkable monocellular being… When Eddie sat up again the missing was total even though he was right there. I want to live in your heart, Richie thought with powerful clarity. But that was almost a Modern Lovers song: “I Wanna Sleep in Your Arms.” He watched Eddie press the tip of his tongue into his upper lip as he measured out the proper quantity of ointment, and then he applied this with a painterly precision and delicacy to the fragile spots at Richie’s temple and cheek and jaw.
“Why don’t you just talk to me?”
“When you start thinking about it, you can just talk to me. Probably more practical than this masturbatory psychedelic adventure.”
Rather uncharacteristically for Richie, he hadn’t thought about masturbation all day, so he resented this assumption. Eddie smoothed his hair away from the wounds again. “I can’t bandage them here,” he said. “You’ll just have to be careful.”
“Will you talk to me next time?”
“Are you aphasic now? Richie?”
“No. I don’t think so.”
Eddie touched the wound at his brow with his finger this time. It was perhaps a mark of his having grown up that he no longer found something like this disgustingly unsanitary. He seemed emboldened by having not immediately died of a bloodborne pathogen, and his touch followed the scrape along Richie’s face. Temple to cheek to jaw, like the shape of a 3, or an E, Richie thought, suddenly thrilled.
“You’re going to hurt a lot in the morning,” Eddie said. It was kind of charming how much he believed this given Richie’s parallel certainty he would be totally healed in the night solely by the force of Eddie’s light. It was already growing over him and he felt — something. Between blinks, he could see the place where they lived together at the end of the world, so he couldn’t quite say he felt safe. They weren’t safe, because there was something always coming out from underneath — but this of course was true. This was now-true. “You haven’t fallen off your bike since we were kids,” Eddie went on. The note of panic was back in his voice. It was basically like when the distorted guitar drone sustained through “I next saw you…” in the second verse of “Kanga Roo" by Big Star. A sound made of dropping from a roller coaster deep into still water if the water was jagged butter and sunset. “You must have been really fucked up.”
“The asphalt was see-through,” Richie said. “The wheel got stuck and threw me.”
“Like your mom’s — ” He laughed but was also crying. “Your mom’s pantyhose.”
He could feel Eddie sigh. “There you are,” he said, but he didn’t sound convinced. “Coming back to me.”
“I shouldn’t have done it because I already have brain damage,” Richie went on. “I mean, you and I already know intimately that our perceptible reality is basically like skin. Hot chocolate skin.”
“It is not, you fucker,” Eddie said. “You’ve basically gone and functionally lobotomized yourself.”
“You just said your reality is like… congealed milkfat! Some people do this stuff, Richie, and they lose their sense of time! Time! One guy — the DARE counselor said — he said he felt like he was high for seven years. Seven years!”
The Richie who usually occupied this flesh case would probably be mad, but also endeared by that thing Eddie did which was to repeat key phrases for effect, and that other thing he did which was actually listen to whatever those assholes were saying at the DARE assemblies and other sorts of scare-them-straight fora, and anyway that Richie was not quite here. Or he was here but infinite somewhere elses too and all those elses were collapsing in on one another like a photograph that had been exposed on every roll of film ever taken in human memory. A photograph which was all darkness in which everything existed. Eddie’s yellowing floral wallpaper dissolved into some Edwardian meadow from a Merchant Ivory movie and the sun paled all color into impressionist pastel blotches. “You’re scaring me when you do that,” Eddie said, and for a second he had a British accent. The walls kind of propped up again but they were more like a suggestion.
“You’re going somewhere!”
“It’s somewhere good.”
“You’re lucky I found you,” Eddie told him. Time was moving itself in such an improbable way that his touch was basically everywhere on Richie’s face at once, but especially against the sore spot between his nose and lip. “Aren’t you always supposed to have a trip sitter?”
He had thought about it whilst pressing the tiny piece of paper to the center of his tongue, alone under the bleachers with the cigarette butts and beer cans. He had had a single possessing thought then — the usual possessing thought, like the omnipresent suffocating possessing thought, the thought which was his entire mind, sometimes, most of the time, if he was being honest, I wish Eddie was with me — which had turned out to have summoning power. “You’re my trip sitter,” he said.
“You fucking started without me!”
“You found me,” Richie said. “I knew you would find me.”
He wrapped his hand around the cap of Eddie’s knee and Eddie’s arms kind of caged his face in. All of liquid life distilled under pressure into a single drop of molten something burning through him, like toffee boiling and browning in a saucepan. “What would you do without me,” Eddie said.
“I would just die,” Richie told him, meaning it.
In the silence that accompanied the fracturing of the spell, the record clicked and shuffled against the end of the side.
Eddie sat up kind of rigidly, spine cracking. His hands moved away from Richie’s face with a regretful stiffness, like a carnival ride ending. This was so profoundly untenable that Richie’s heart threw itself violently into his throat and started tripping all over itself trying to run to high ground.
Everything was happening like a time-lapse scene of the astronomical collision and subsequent floods that had killed the dinosaurs. The sky turned pure white and then it glowed orange-grey, like a wound, and all the foliage superheated until the sap inside caught fire and everything vaporized. The landscape was reterraformed by catastrophic floods, and the mass of shrapnel and debris which hid the sun invoked an abrupt winterish time, like the vengeance of a burned witch.
He was being dragged into this hellscape by means of some demonic lash around his ankle even as he clawed for purchase in the heavenly paradise of literally fifteen seconds ago. “Eds,” he tried. This was coming from his heart; his heart was wringing these things out of his throat, like dishwater from a sponge. “Eds, I mean it. I — ”
“Don’t say it,” said Eddie bitterly.
Kind of too late because these things could not quite be stopped once they were started. Death and taxes and his fucking mouth.
“I love you. Am in love with you.”
In the great pause following — caesura, as the maestros may have said — he felt he was watching out the window of his English classroom across the lawn toward the woods, suffused with yearning, as though none of the interim several hours / eons of excruciating existence had ever happened.
“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me,” Eddie announced at last. Something had found the tuning nuts that adjusted the tone of his voice and had cranked them twenty-four hours counterclockwise. “This is worse than last time!”
It seemed improbable given his comparatively terrestrial mental state that he was thinking as Richie was thinking of their simultaneous multiversal lives… specifically maybe the one where they were inside a since-discontinued video game that had only been at the arcade for a single hallucinogenic summer, Communist Mutants From Space. That one was definitely pretty fucked up even by Richie’s standards.
“Remember? Right after we watched Apocalypse Now at Bill’s.”
He had been incredibly stoned and terrified and they were in Eddie’s car and — ha! — he had had that Buzzcocks tape on. It was raining and the windshield wipers which Eddie had installed himself inexpertly but was too proud to fix kind of smeared the streetlight across the glass like gold and pink oil paints applied with a palette knife. You spurn my natural emotions, you make me feel I’m dirt and I’m hurt… “Oh,” he said. “Right.”
“Why must you always do this at the worst possible time?”
“There is no such thing as worst time, Eds,” Richie managed. “Time is just… time.”
“Okay, Carl Sagan.”
“But do you believe me yet?”
Eddie sighed. “I dunno Richie. You make it hard.”
That he had probably unknowingly quoted Crosby Stills and Nash’s “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” did not seem to cause him an iota of the metaphysical anguish that it caused Richie. The imagined harmonies suffused his swollen little brain. It’s getting to the point where I am no fun anymore…
His brain was always jumping from song to song like this but it was happening so fast now it was making him nauseous.
“Do you have something sharp?”
“Do I what?”
“I think you need to trepan me.”
“I need to — what! Is that a — I don’t even want to know!”
“It’s in our world history textbook. In the first few pages. There might be some basic instructions. You have to cut a hole in my skull because my brain is exploding.”
This did the impossible and silenced him for a single perfect moment in which the voice of Stephen Stills was beamed from the Voyager golden record, wailing on some junk turntable constructed by aliens, shipwrecked on a hurtling asteroid and clustered for warmth around a guttering campfire: CAN I TELL IT LIKE IT IS… LISTEN TO ME BABY…
“You have a massive concussion,” Eddie said. His voice was calm with horror. “You’re going to have a fucking aneurysm and die in my arms.”
Richie turned over in his lap with extreme awkwardness. He was starting to feel the scuffed-up places more like actual bodily damage rather than unstretchable fabric and he was starting to feel the reality of being completely emotionally naked and almost physically naked except for underwear and some taped-on gauze in the lap of the most beautiful person in the world. Eddie seized the opportunity of the shifting and the mental digestion to peel apart the lids of Richie’s left eye and peer into it like a microscope for signs of impending brain bleed. Light jolted through the tender lenses like a shock of lightning so Richie batted the touch away and squeezed his eyes shut. “What will it take for you to believe me,” he said.
“Maybe if you ever said it in a normal circumstance.”
Richie cracked an eye and Eddie didn’t try to pluck it out so he cracked the other. Eddie’s mind was moving in his eyes. It moved slower and had more walls in it but he was cowed by the understanding that back there was another equivalent consciousness which he loved — he loved! Of course he loved. How could he not love? The mystery of another consciousness of course was love! It could only be love or else there would be no mystery and it could only be mystery or else there would be no love!
“What’s a normal circumstance,” Richie asked him.
“Take me to Rockport and buy me a lobster roll.”
“Okay. For real?”
Something felt burrowing under the bandage taped to his shoulder. He reached across to itch it and Eddie gently pulled his hand away and held it by the wrist against the bed, like a trapped butterfly. Richie’s mind was basically a disaster of air. “Calm down,” Eddie said, “I’m thinking.”
“Can’t! Let go of me.”
Eddie didn’t. It shocked him. “You need to settle down,” he said evenly. “My mom’s downstairs.”
Richie feebly struggled, returning to the butterfly metaphor. “You’re freaking yourself out,” Eddie told him. Of course he had no fucking clue what he was talking about, but his seriousness was reassuring and somehow believable. “You need to be on the mental equivalent of the bananas rice applesauce toast diet.”
“Bananas rice — ”
“Applesauce toast. Bland foods. When you have a stomach bug. You can’t be thinking about these — huge issues, because your brain is going to fucking melt out your ears.”
His mind was stretching up the crumbling walls of the internal universe like a cucumber vine. “What am I supposed to think about,” he croaked.
“How about you let me get up and put another record on,” Eddie said, as though he had not cunningly orchestrated his own present trappedness under Richie’s astrally projecting head. “Do you want to listen to the Feelies? I could make you a frozen pizza.”
To be offered so much at once dried his mouth out. Because he was currently in the business of endeavoring to know everything, he could hardly know anything at all, but chiefly he knew he didn’t want Eddie to get up, so he shook his head. He kept shaking it in desperate suffocating terror whilst Eddie gently and a little reluctantly sat him up and then stood. There was a single perfect round browning spot of blood on his jeans between knee and crotch, like a storm on Jupiter. He lay Richie back down in the bed and arranged him into the recovery position and piled every itchy wool blanket in his possession, which were not few, gingerly over the jagged splinter of his body in the cool spring breeze through the open window.
“I think you need to eat something,” he said to the shard visible of Richie’s face amidst the heavy and bestilling warmth. “At least you need to drink water.”
He could not necessarily disagree with either of these two statements but could with each of their intended ends. “Don’t leave,” he said. “Please.”
Eddie chewed the insides of his lips together inside his mouth.
“Please,” Richie said again. Was maybe not saying anything at all but just hearing it on interstellar transmission from wherever his brain was, refracting in the heavy wool.
“I’m not,” Eddie said. “I won’t.”
He stashed all the first aid supplies far in the back of his bedside table drawer, and then went fishing through the milk crate of records until he found the One, Crazy Rhythms, 1980, blue cover blistering bright like someone’s eyes or the ocean on a map. Otherwise like the sun when it struck the quarry precisely of a summer noon. Otherwise like cotton candy Dum Dum lollipops. At the turntable he carefully stowed away the Modern Lovers record like the relic of an martyred saint and then queued up side one, track one, “The Boy with the Perpetual Nervousness.”
Richie watched him, eventually stumbling upon what he thought might be a compelling rejoinder. “But Eds, what — ”
Eddie turned away from the record player. His desk light and the music moved tenderly around him like an aura. “I don’t know,” he said. “I just don’t. Let’s talk about it in the morning.”
“But in the morning — ”
“I’ll believe you if you say it in the morning,” Eddie told him.
He reshelved the National Geographic photo book and moved the crate of records back into the corner. With a handful of tissues drawn from a beside box he ushered Richie’s bloody clothes and all the oxygen-browning blood-soaked cotton balls into a paper bag, which he folded up and tucked under the bed, in the nook behind the large storage container in which he kept his winter sweaters, where he customarily concealed things he didn't want his mother to find, including, Richie knew, having given him these things, a few nibs of vodka and a dog-eared copy of Lady Chatterly’s Lover. Then he reached further under the bed to pull out his beaten-up old sleeping bag lined with plush blue flannel inside which was imprinted a few sleepovers’ worth of booze and vomit and fine silty quarry mud and no doubt blood.
Eddie lay his sleeping bag out on the floor and Richie watched him like a love scene in a drive-in movie, which was too far away and two-dimensional to touch but yet toward which his entire body yearned for the ghost of tenderness. On the stereo the winsome guitar tones lifted his bruised consciousness from the corner of the dance hall and coaxed it into a kind of painful swaying waltz.
Everything was beautiful, and in the morning everything was going to really hurt. But he was going to try again.
Eventually the way things were moving and changing became dreams. Eventually dreams became normal human reality because he was in too much pain to sleep. It was dawn. He tossed and turned for a while and then he opened his eyes. He scrounged for his glasses on the bedside table and understood at last with a special clarity the precise meaning of the phrase the cold light of day.
Eddie was awake on the floor reading the copy of Trout Fishing in America that Richie had stolen from the library, laid awake thinking about for a solid week, and then lent to him, guiltily letting their hands touch over Brautigan’s handlebar mustache on the cover. “This book is so fucking weird,” Eddie said. “What’s wrong with you?”
Richie’s teeth were chattering too hard to speak. Eddie sprung into action like a nurse from a World War II documentary on PBS. He was wearing the same jeans from last night with the spot of Richie’s blood on them near the knee. He quickly selected some clothing from his closet and threw it on the bed, and then he went down the hall to the medicine closet again to get the baby aspirin.
Eddie’s jeans were basically like highwaters on him, showing a few inches of skinned and scarred and hairy ankle like a butch Victorian lady, and putting them on was a mortal trial akin to CIA torture. The fabric moved over the bandaged scrape lining the topside of his hip and thigh like sandpaper. Something like a migraine but also alive as a hangover was consuming his entire brain very slowly starting with the front, like a sadistic panda munching contentedly on bamboo. He felt rammed into something shrunk. Eddie came back while he was still wrestling the shirt on. He took one look at whatever bare skin remained visible and winced dramatically.
“It’s not that bad,” Richie managed to evince from wherever words came from.
“It is. You look like you fell into a fucking pond sized watercolor set.”
Eddie’s face appeared from the neck of the shirt. Had not slept much if at all judging by the shadow under the lovely eyes. He produced the palm of his hand which contained two small white pills, and then a glass of water.
Can we lie down again, Richie almost said, please. Can you please hold me again until this goes away.
“My mom’s still asleep. We could get out quick and go to the hospital.”
“Your elbow’s broken, Richie, look at it.”
He did and then wished he hadn’t.
“Can we get breakfast?”
“Maybe after, okay?”
They went tiptoeing down the stairs like elves, skipping the third, and out into the blinding-bright morning. By the Eddie’s watch it was 7:42AM, but judging by the state of the cassette player as soon as the key touched the ignition it was time to blast the Buzzcocks at maximum volume.
Richie had dubbed him this tape of Singles Going Steady on his dad’s stereo while his parents were at work, headphones propped over one ear as he manipulated the various amps like a DJ. Of course he had the vinyl — it had been one of the first things he ever bought with pocket money, age twelve or something, because of watching Pete Shelley on MTV in Stan’s furnished basement and thinking, even as a sardonic child, this sound grasps something of the pure gold kernel that is love's reality and proceeds to rub the listener's face in it. Shortly after Eddie had inherited the car or otherwise come upon it by clandestine means, Richie had found out he was listening to Huey Lewis and the News in it, which was thoroughly untenable. Hence the tape dubbing, on which he had spent hours evading homework until his parents caught on somehow through the fog of marital angst that this could not possibly be a school project. It was one of many factors that had contributed to the visit to the family doctor and the Ritalin prescription and et cetera. But it was all manifestly worth it for the sheer ecstatic fear of that moment, 7:42AM, when the tape came on in Eddie’s car with a deafening vengeance.
Eddie flushed roughly the color of red currants and reached for the volume knob to turn it down. Richie practically detached his wounded arm from his body, further complicating what the doctor later told him was a complex olecranon fracture, to stop him in his tracks.
You spurn my natural emotions — you make me feel I’m dirt and I’m hurt — and if I start a commotion I run the risk of losing you and that’s worse —
His entire nervous system shattered him with lightning. He remembered he had something important to say.