AFTER CLIMBING OUT of bed, the first thing you do is kneel on the floor, so as to better greet Tony, your polar bear, who is marooned on a white felt ice floe in a veritable sea of navy blue lambswool. Things are looking pretty grim for Tony: Won’t he ever make landfall? Were there no chilly lagoons, as yet unravaged by man and the effects of a strip-mined ozone, in which he might find solace and innumerable little fishies (to be consumed graciously and only as needed, of course). For Tony’s sake, you put on a brave face. Good morning, Tony! you say. Hang in there, Tony! you say, before passing into the bathroom.
Today is a special day and calls for special preparations. First the white jar: a mixture, in equal parts, Amazonian silt and volcanic ash. It feels like black putty in the palm of your hand. It feels like mother earth in the palm of your hand. Exfoliate. Exfoliate. An immortelle facial scrub follows and is chased away by a microfiber muslin cloth (Milan). Your skin feels taut and fresh, as if emerging from a glacial hibernation. Your pores look as though they might issue music at any second. Today will be a good day, of this you are sure.
Downstairs, on the kitchen counter, waits a tuna salad sandwich, plated and on white bread, sans crust. It oozes mayonnaise like primordial fluids. You gag. It comes with a side of notation:
My love, do have fun today. Don’t forget an umbrella and do mind Tim.
As if you could forget your Tim. As if Tim could forget Tim. You suspect that by now he has returned from picking up the gift; that already he is waiting for you at the door. You peer around the corner, and there he is – wearing his typical black suit and sporting wide-framed black shades (Stockholm). There exists a valley between his pectorals: Tim is a highly visible man.
You throw the sandwich in the trash. You throw the plate into the sink. Proceeding down the hallway, you take your coat from the closet and say, aloud, “The principal issue with nuclear energy is the resulting radioactive byproducts, which we cannot just leave to future generations, as I do not want to be punched – in the face! – by a mob of angry descendants when I emerge from cryogenic slumber.”
“The gift is in the car,” Tim says, without moving, ostensibly without breathing. You wonder if the world glints off Tim’s eyes the same way it does off the surfaces of his Monokel eyewear.
“And the problem with wind-generated power,” you say, “lies largely in the mechanism itself. I mean, have you ever seen one of those turbines up close? They are, like, psycho-bat-killers. And on the grounds around them – bona fide bat-mortuaries.”
“I wrapped it in three layers of gift paper – Hammerpress.”
You breathe a sigh of relief and wonder if in all the world there has ever been a better manservant than Tim. Even now he holds the door open for you – what a gentleman! – but before you can pass through, your eyes settle on the console table in the foyer, recently erected, upon which rest a customized stationery set and an arrangement of Visconti fountain pens. You pause here for a moment before heading out to the car.
As you settle into the backseat, you say, “James’ place, Tim,” as if this was necessary, as if Tim did not already know, and as you glide soundlessly down the street, you look out the window at a blue sky, cloudless, except for a lone cumulonimbus brooding in the distance.
* * *
I believe our best hope may reside in the development of solar power. It’s fair to anticipate some degree of social and economic upheaval during the initial stages of implementation, but displaced workers can ultimately be retrained for the purposes of building, installing, and maintaining solar infrastructures, thereby minimizing the turbulence of the transitionary period.
* * *
Gym class on an overcast April afternoon. Kickball. It is a close game, you think. You really have no idea what is going on. Kickball? The bases are loaded. James is up to bat. Terminological misappropriation? The pitch is made. The kick is swift. The ball is like a shooting star, albeit one made of synthetic polymers and not, you know, a collection of hydrogen and helium gases. James runs the bases with the grace of a stag or some other member of family Cervidae – that is what you’re thinking when he lurches midstride and collapses on the ground. Everyone runs to him. James! James! Are you okay? As if in explanation, James points to a nearby patch of ground, where at first there appears to be nothing, but upon closer inspection – worms. A mass of worms writhing and pulsing in flesh-like colors. An absolute orgy of worms.
“I think I count five,” says Greg.
“There’s at least ten, you shit,” says Sharon.
“I value, uh, even the smallest forms of life,” says James.
And everyone is like, Wow. And you are like, Wow.
* * *
Christmas – two years ago. In the mail. A gift.
I call him ‘Tony’
* * *
That time you invited James to your house. In the kitchen, you offer him his choice of beverage: Limonade? Citronnade? Baileys & milk? Does your Mom, like, always leave you notes? James wants to know.
You are a perfect host.
In your bedroom, you introduce James to Tony. “That’s a, um, nice toy,” he says.
That night you cannot sleep. An audio loop plays and replays in your head. It’s saying, Um nice. Um nice. Um nice. Um nice. Um nice.
* * *
Arriving at James’ house, you are opening the car door when, from the front seat, Tim turns to you. He says, “Sir, about the gift—are your sure?” In response, you step from the car, close the door behind you, and take in the scene: a grey vinyl, two-story prefab with a bleached concrete walk leading to the front door. You cradle the gift under your arm as you ring the bell, and as Tim pulls out of the drive, the door swings open, revealing James’ mother. She is a slender woman with high cheekbones and shoulder length black hair. You suspect she would be pretty if she knew how to dress. In her hands she carries a bushel of bananas; around her shoulders is draped a fuchsia-colored cardigan (Target).
“Ian!” she says. “Welcome!” She waves you through the door like you are a plane descending on the tarmac.
Inside, you can barely make out the white of the ceiling through a blanket of balloons in primary colors. On the far wall, a series of letter cutouts are strung together to read “Happy Tween-Days James!”
You take several steps in every direction; stand on your tiptoes; shield your eyes from the fluorescent lights, but you do not see James, though his mother is at your heels.
“We have cornhole set up outside; later there’s going to be a piñata; I thought I’d make fruit smoothies!” James’ mother brandishes her bananas like they are talismans meant to ward off evil. Yet she does not stop. “How’s your mother? I don’t think I’ve seen her since…What? Last year’s production of A Christmas Carol? You were the most adorable Mr. Marley.” (Adorable?) She makes a crescendo of ghost-like noises before saying, abruptly, “Well, you must be anxious to join the others.”
Yes, you are anxious.
She leads you to the back door of the house that opens onto a fenced-in yard. There, James is facing off against Bonnie Bonnie and Sharon in a game of cornhole, during which Sharon lobs three consecutive beanbags over the fence and says, “I guess I just don’t know my own strength.” Meanwhile Greg lays wheezing and lonesome in the middle ground.
“James, look who’s here,” says his mother. James jogs over and you cannot help but think that everything is happening exactly as you imagined it would (conceding the presence of his mother, of course).
“Happy birthday, James,” you say and proffer your gift.
“It’s beautiful,” his mother says.
“Fuck off,” you want to say, but refrain. After all, she’s right. A complex pattern of yellow shapes on a white background, it is beautiful: it is Cactus Envy.
James tears through the gift-wrap and removes the lid from the enclosed box. Inside are four pairs of Eiji Hajiwara chopsticks, hand-carved from the fastest growing variety of self-replenishing bamboo and coated in two layers of urushi lacquer. Someone (the voice in your head?) gasps. James picks up a pair of chopsticks, examines them, and says, “You know, I really like soccer,” before placing them back in the box.
The muscles in your throat tighten. You feel an overwhelming sense of vertigo. You like soccer? From somewhere far away, a woman’s voice is saying, Ian, are you alright? Should I call Tim? But you cannot answer. You are thinking, James, you skunk. You want to shove the chopsticks down his throat. You want to scream and trample soft things beneath your feet. You see yourself, alone, standing at the edge of a cliff, beyond which lies the end, when James says, “Do you think we can use them to roast marshmallows?” Then, to his mother: “Do we have any marshmallows?”
And you think to yourself, Yes, we can use them to roast marshmallows. Yes, thank god.
James’ mother returns inside while you and James engage Sharon and Bonnie Bonnie in an epic confrontation of cornhole, the tales of which will pass into legend and be told at picnics for years to come. You are at match point when Greg stops wheezing long enough to raise his head and say, “Ian, is that your Dad?”
You turn in time to see Tim emerge from the backdoor of the house, a spotless white and black soccer ball tucked beneath his arm, and immediately you are filled with panic: not yet! you think. You want to say to Greg, You fool; you fuck, that’s not my dad. That’s my Tim! but there is no time for such things. Already Tim is advancing across the grass. Overhead, the storm clouds, once distant, have rolled in, casting shadows that are creeping across the yard even now, as if to let you know that you are nearing the end. You are constantly nearing the end. You feel burdened by the sudden knowledge that you may never again have the balls to tell James how you really feel. There are tears in your eyes when you turn to him. You say, “James. James, it’s lovely weather we’re having, isn’t it?” You smile.
Thomas Cardamone is currently an MFA candidate in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Houston. His fiction has previously appeared in Moon City Review, Lunch Ticket, Necessary Fiction, and decomP.