Chapter excerpt from The Starlights
by Joni Abilene
I hardly ever do this, but decided it’d be nice to try something different for once. You know I finished Woman in Love, which is a mother and son split POV in quirky (crazy) lit style. Well, after reaching the last page I felt Jane’s story had wrapped up nicely, but Keith’s was still in the air. I guess that’s because he’s so young. I mean, nothing’s ever really wrapped up at fourteen, is it? I am very content writing from the perspective of a teen and the reason for that is—I believe—there’s a ton of philosophy going on at that age.
Anyway. I’ll set up the chapter. Keith, who is now fifteen, is hanging out with his college friend Mark, who you might remember is a pot smokin’, Dungeons & Dragons playin’, smart ass with long hair and the motto of: Say it straight. These two were the culprits in blowing up Keith’s dad’s auto lot on the Bicentennial, plus spraying graffiti about two chicks on the Stultz bridge. Now that’s all coming back to haunt them. Thanks for reading.
We finish the pizza and Coke and Mark smokes another cigarette. We’re just about to slide out of the booth when the group from the other table comes over, talking loud.
“Yeah, those are the ones who wrote that shit about us on the bridge,” I hear Barbara say. She hikes a thumb back at Mark and I, and the two of us freeze. If you were a stranger and had walked into town for the first time and saw Carl and Doug sitting in the booth earlier, you’d think they were average size, but standing up it’s a whole other story. These guys are monsters. But they hadn’t messed with me all year, and it wouldn’t make sense to do it now. Anyway, everyone in town thinks I’m the lone person who sprayed that message about Barbara and Tricia. No one knows Mark helped—and that’s how I want it. I never ratted him out because I didn’t want him to get in trouble with his folks.
Well, Mark doesn’t seem to care about trouble tonight. He shoves his way out of the booth and into the group, arms crossed stiffly in front of his chest. I amble out too, careful not to knock into the guys. I don’t even look at them. All I want is my guitar and to get the hell out of there.
“You chicks up for any fun?” Mark asks.
Barbara and Tricia look him over, then me, and roll their eyes. “No thanks,” they say.
“You won’t be having any with these losers.” He hikes his head at Carl and Doug.
Oh shit. I grab my guitar case and push through the group and hope Mark’s getting the message to leave too. I don’t want a fight. I’m the peaceful sort—not because of anything Eric’s taught me, I’m just that way on my own. Fighting is such a caveman thing to do. Might as well carry a club and pick nits off every person you see. It’s primal, man.
“Why don’t you like me?” Mark asks pouty-like, and I can hear what he’s really doing is being a comedian. He’s getting their goat.
“Because you’re gross, that’s why.”
“Gross. Do you mean that as an adjective or a verb?”
I can’t help it, I let out a laugh and catch the attention of Doug, who cracks his knuckles.
Mark goes on. “Cause the first means I’m a fat slob, which I’m not. Now the second means I’m worth a shitload. Which one is it, ladies?”
Doug and Carl close in and Mark flips his hair. Did I tell you it’s so long it goes down his back? It almost covers the worn out pot symbol on his jacket. “Easy, fellas. I’m leaving.”
Mark joins me at the pay counter. He pulls out a ten and hands it to the clerk, gets his change and we leave.
“You’re really asking for it,” I whisper on the way out the front door.
“So what? They were talkin’ shit. They’re punks.”
“Yeah, but they’re big punks. And I see them every day at school.”
Mark shrugs. “They’re pussies. Chicks are hot, though.”
Mark’s failing to see the tragedy of the situation, and how everything he just said might result in my eventual death. Plus, I hate that he thinks the girls are hot. Barbara and Tricia are hideous to me after calling me a fag. True skanks.
“Whatever, all I’m saying is you don’t have to deal with them the way I do. You can go back to college and get the hell out of Stultz, but I’m stuck here with these assholes.”
“At the moment, I’m feeling kinda stuck too.” Mark shoves his hands into his pockets. “Look, I’m sorry, man. I shouldn’t have done it. I was just having fun with them, is all.”
“Well maybe think about not having so much fun next time, when it ain’t people you see every day.”
The door opens behind us, and before we can even make it out of the lot I see Carl and Doug heading our way. The girls stay behind at the front entrance. Carl’s walking fast. He’s got a look in his eye that says blood and I know what’s about to happen.
A fist cracks into the right side of my face, and before the other side of can get hit, I use my guitar case to knock Carl to the ground. Then I see Doug is going at it with Mark—shoving hard so that Mark’s stumbling. Fists start swinging, and I don’t know who’s hitting who, and there’s no time to figure it out, because Carl’s inching on me again, shoulders raised. I hold up the guitar again, and he stays off.
“I didn’t say nothin’ to you!”
“Doesn’t matter,” he says between grinding teeth. “This is for what you did to Barb and Trish.”
“Well, they did it to me first.”
“I don’t give a shit.”
He’s panting, and his fists are permanent rocks with me as their target. I don’t want to fight, but I can’t run. If it was just me, yeah, maybe I would run. But I can’t leave Mark alone with these two.
Carl lunges forward to rip the guitar case from my hands. We struggle with it, because there ain’t no way in hell he’s going to get the thing. I’d rather my face get destroyed than the guitar. I kick at him to knock him off, but when he falls the case is still in his hands. I watch as he scrambles up, opens the case and rips out the guitar.
“Don’t do it, man. I ain’t even paid for it yet!”
Carl strums a freaky chord and all I can think of is: the E string sounds a little low. I make one last plea before he starts smashing it into the pavement, then I turn away because I can’t watch guitar murder full on. Jesus. I remember watching a movie about Elvis where he gets so pissed he smashes his guitar into a bathroom wall. But that’s Elvis and he can afford to buy a new one in a second. I haven’t even paid for this one yet. I don’t even care about the blood dripping from my eye into my mouth. I just want to erase time.
When all the smashing stops, I turn to see the Ovation is nothing but hanging shreds of cracked wood held on by strands of cat gut. And I feel just like that guitar, all shredded.
Even Mark and Doug stop fighting each other, because it’s pretty unbelievable what just happened.
I look over to the girls. Barbara gives me a glare of cold satisfaction and my middle finger is itching to make itself known. But I figure I won’t give her the satisfaction. If she’s sick enough to enjoy watching someone’s new guitar being destroyed, that they haven’t even paid for yet, that they’ll have to pay for anyway even though it’s gone, then I don’t want to waste any more time showing how much I hate her. But I do. I really fucking hate her right now.
She’s Stultz. The whole town right there in front of me—in a mini skirt, platform heels and Farrah Fawcett hair.
Mark and Doug end their fight with an exchange of shoves and tough words and then Mark comes over to help me pick up the Ovation’s carcass and pile it into its casket. “Fuck them. You’ll get a new one,” he says, trying to assure me. Mostly I think he’s trying to keep me from crying, at least until everyone’s gone. But I ain’t gonna cry. I’m too mad to cry. It’s a white-hot anger inside of me singling all my intestines.
“You okay, man?” he asks. Blood’s dripping from his lip, but he lights up to smoke anyway.
“Yeah, I’m fine.”
Mark kicks someone’s fender on the way out of the lot. “Typical Stultz swill, desecrating a fine instrument like that.”
“You want to know what’s funny, though?” I ask.
“Everything I got is busted. My car, my guitar, my family—everything. Ain’t that funny?”
“Yeah, well I’d laugh, but my lips hurt.”
We reach his apartment, and he stops and hesitates for a moment. “Look, Keith,” he hasn’t called me by my actual name since—well, I can’t remember when—he just doesn’t, “I hate to be like this, but you can understand my position. I’m older than you. I’m in college, at least I was. Hell, I’ve tried to be a good friend because I remember what it’s like at your age—all the heavy shit you feel, high school, all that—but I don’t have time to be getting my face all busted up.”
“What are you saying, man?”
Mark sniffs hard and shrugs. “I guess I’m saying we shouldn’t hang out together anymore.”
“But what about the band?”
“Well, you ain’t got a guitar no more, so . . .”
My gut is twisting, but I hear myself say sure, fine, I don’t need to hang out with you, and you don’t need to hang out with me. It all makes perfect sense. Only it doesn’t, and I’m hurting inside. Mark is my brother. My only friend.
He squeezes me on the shoulder. “But you know you can always call when you need something.”
I watch him go inside the apartment building. I pick up the guitar and look at it for a long time. There’s a dumpster in the parking lot that says no outside trash.
But I don’t care.