In the small Midwestern town of Stultz, you don’t haggle over which movie to see. The fact is, there’s only one: Star Wars. It came out in ’77 and never left the theater. And now that it’s well into ’78, everyone’s got the darn thing memorized. Keith isn’t thinking too much about Darth Vader or Yoda or how to save the Universe from a dark entity. The dark entity is his heart. If only he had a light saber to protect it.
From The Starlights:
The popcorn is too salty. I’m going to suck all my soda before the movie even starts. I’m down to ice when the familiar Star Wars theme starts up. We’re halfway through when I look over and see Mark slipping Birdie the tongue, and she’s letting him. She likes it. I never would have figured. Her for him. Him for her. I seem to be wrong about so many things, even things about myself. I know nothing. Absolutely nothing.
“Fuck,” I say, grabbing my pop. “I need a refill.”
“Can you do mine too?” Sally asks, and I grab her empty cup and head down the aisle. This is going to cost me and I wish I would’ve taken some of that money, but not all of it. Just enough to get by without sending the message to Suzanne that I’m a loser. She must think I’m one if she hasn’t called all week. It’s like she’s avoiding me. It hurts. It hurts so much.
I want to be with Sally, I still love her too, but now she’s annoying to me because I can’t have Suzanne. Everything’s rubbing me the wrong way. I just wanna scream, break something, get in a fight. In the lobby I see Doug Flemming and Carl Yoder, the guys Mark and I battled back at Garbucci’s Pizza a few weeks ago. It seems like longer than that. I’ve avoided them at school, and they’ve avoided me. But maybe we shouldn’t be avoiding each other anymore. I’m still pissed about the guitar. Sure, I got a new one, but that first one was the real one. The one I wanted. Someone’s always taking shit from me, holding it out of reach. When Carl walks past with an armload of snacks, I stick my foot out a few inches and watch him go down in a cascade of popcorn and Coca-Cola. I even call him an asshole and laugh about it because, what a klutz, right? Other people are laughing too.
He looks up from the stained lobby carpet with Dots and melting Junior Mints everywhere, and I swear he’s got smoke coming out of his ears, just like in those old cartoons. “Did you do that on purpose?” he asks.
I shrug. Can’t wipe the smirk off my face, though I know I outta. This feels too good. Losing my guitar doesn’t hurt so much now. It’s been killing me since it happened and now I feel happy. But yeah, I’m a little scared too. Carl’s a big guy, and here comes Doug with a crapload of snacks balanced on his Popeye forearms.
“I saw you stick your foot out, fucker. We’ll be waiting for you after the movie.”
“Really? I’m trembling.”
“You should be.” He shoves a handful of popcorn into his mouth.
“Oink,” I say, before heading back to the movie. Carl’s still picking up all his shit.
But then when I sit down next to Sally, it starts to sink in. What I just did. Sure, I felt like fighting, but not the girls, not Mark. Look what happened last time we met these guys? I hand Sally her Coke and slide down in my seat. Princess Leia is flying around on a motorcycle thingy with Luke Skywalker and I feel like I got lead in my soul. A little bit later, Doug and Carl pass by and I catch their eyes. Pissed. Off.
“What is it?”
“Doug and Carl. I’m worried.”
She watches them head down to the front section of the theater where Barbara and Tricia sit with their feet hiked up on the next row of seats.
“They don’t scare me,” Sally says.
“You don’t have to fight them.”
“Why does anybody have to fight them? Did they bug you out in the lobby?”
“Yeah. Something like that.”
“Well, I’m not worried.” She keeps staring at me in the dark and I don’t know why. Finally I turn to look at her. “What?”
She eyes my face for a long time, and I can tell she wants me to kiss her.
“Don’t you want to watch the movie?” I ask.
“But this is the part with Yoda.”
“I don’t give a shit.” Her hand slides to my chest.
I lean in and give her a kiss and I’m so confused I can’t think straight. I really do love her, don’t I? Sally is hotter than ten boxes of Hot Tamales stuck together. I love the way she looks, talks. I love that she’s not like all the other girls. But she’s not Suzanne. She’ll never be Suzanne, and that’s the problem. After a few minutes, I shove her off and throw my head back to breathe.
“Has your mom been busy or something? How come she never answers the phone when I call your house?”
“She never answers anymore. Does she hate me or something?”
That hand leaves my chest and there’s only a weird coldness afterwards. She gets out of her seat. I grab her arm.
“Where are you going?”
“Why? What did I say?”
She yanks my hand off. Mark and Birdie have stopped tasting each other long enough to watch the current goings on. “Sally!” I get up and follow her down the aisle. She’s fast. She should join track. “Sally, hold up!” We’re nearing the lobby.
“You asshole. You still love her, don’t you?”
“Love who? Come on, Sally. Stop walking.” Too late, she’s already in the girl’s bathroom. I’d follow, but it’s right next to concessions and there’s a bunch of people watching. “Shit.” I lean against the doorway. And wait. Chicks come and go. Ten minutes pass by. I hear toilets flushing and water going on and off. A sour smell wafts out every once in a while. “Please, Sally,” I say with my head rested into my arm. Every girl that comes out gives me the look, the one that says I suck huge donkey balls.
I stop one girl with red hair and ask if she’ll tell the hot girl with black hair to come out before the movie’s over. “And tell her I’m sorry!” A few minutes later Sally comes to the door, and her face is all splotchy red.
“Jesus.” I cram my hands into my back pockets.
We head back into the movie theater. Mark and Birdie crane their heads up as we sit down.
“I’m sorry, Sally.”
“I really am. I shouldn’t have mentioned her.”
“But you can’t help it. You love her.” She starts to sniffle.
“I don’t love her. I don’t.” I reach and grab her hand. I lean in to kiss her again. “You know that.”
Her lips are salty from the tears and sweet from the candy. She’s trembling. I want to kiss it all away, make her believe me, even if I don’t believe myself. I’ll fix this. I’ll forget Suzanne. That’s the answer, ain’t it? Suzanne is wrecking my life and it’s time I did something about it. I gotta stop caring, stop thinking, about her. Mark said so, Eric said so.
We kiss until the movie’s about to end, then pick up our stuff and get the hell out of there. I’m relieved, because it means I can avoid Doug and Carl. Everything’s better now. Sally likes me again. That lead feeling eases from my body and I put an arm around Sally’s shoulder when we head into the street.
We walk to Mark’s place. We play a word game.
“Star Wars,” Mark says, then changes it to, “Scar Wars.”
“Scar Wad,” I say.
“Suck Wad,” Mark says.
“Obi-Wan Kenobi,” Birdie says.
“Open van and boobies,” Mark says.
We all laugh.
“How about, Death Star?” I ask.
“Porn Star,” Mark says.
“That’s all you think about,” Birdie says.
“Sex? It only takes up a small portion of my brain capacity. The rest is full on fucking genius.”
“I’m sure it is.”
“I don’t even have to study. College is too fucking easy.” We don’t talk about why Mark’s not in college anymore or what happened a few weeks ago with the pills. I’m glad Mark is happy. Still don’t know why he likes Birdie so much. He sees things I can’t, but whatever, at least he’s not lying on the floor anymore.
Sally’s still trembling from the cold. A few blocks and we’ll be there, I tell her. Then we can hang out for a while. I wish I had the Pontiac already. I’ll take the test in a few days and then it’ll be mine. God, life can’t be so easy all of a sudden. I don’t trust it. But maybe it can, if I forget Suzanne.
It’s over, it’s over.
A car pulls up.
“Hey motherfuckers, we waited for you after the movie.”
“Just keep walking,” I say. Mark’s face, it’s white like milk.
“What do they want? I thought we settled shit with these assholes already.”
“I got into it with them out in the lobby earlier. I tried to fix things, but they’re determined.” What a fucking liar I am. I should just admit I started the whole thing, but I feel so bad. Doug’s hanging out the driver’s side window of his Ford and Carl is next to him, a metal bar in his hands. Christ, I’m gonna piss my pants right there in the street. “Sorry you tripped in the lobby, but it ain’t my fault.” My teeth are knocking together.
“Yeah, sure it ain’t.” The car stops, the guys get out. We’re a block from the apartments. When they rush at us, I tell Sally to get the fuck out of the way. Go the fuck home. She and Birdie scramble to the ditch and I think one of them’s crying.
All I can do is punch at whatever is nearby, which happens to be Carl. He’s got that metal bar. I feel the sick thud of it slam against my shoulder. It’s exactly like I always thought it would be, pain so bad you wanna fall down and die. Then it hits me in the neck. He was aiming for my head. I manage to grab it before he strikes again, and throw it into someone’s front yard. Now I have to keep up with his fists, and who knows what’s happening to Mark? It’s all a hurricane of knuckles. I zero in on one of Carl’s blue eyes and give it a good slug. Crack. Then I go for his nose. I miss. He’s got me in an arm lock and then my face is in the street. Jesus, hell, it hurts. Maybe my tooth’s even knocked out or something. I hate these guys so much. If I had that metal bar, I’d crack both of their head’s open wide, and who cares about prison? Who cares about anything? I just hate them so much.
“Trip me again, motherfucker, and see what happens.” Carl slams a boot into my ribs. I cry out. He kicks me three more times, and I wonder if he’ll keep going, but then Birdie and Sally have found that metal bar and one of them’s swinging it at him. They’re saying all sorts of horrible things, and then they’re at the Ford, smashing it in too. The front headlights explode. I want to get up and help, but I can’t move at all. I can’t even breathe.
One thing I can do, is look at Mark. He’s bent over, holding his wrist like it’s broken or something.
After the guys drive off, I try to roll over. Something splinters inside me. All my bones, cracking at once. Or maybe just that one rib. Sally comes running over and tries to help out. “Don’t move if it hurts,” she says.
“Too late. Oh God.” I run a tongue along all my teeth. They’re still there. “Do I look like shit?”
“Your eye’s swollen. Can you get up?”
I try. It still hurts too much. “Hold on.” I count to twenty and take a few deep breaths, and get to my feet. Then I’m running to the ditch to vomit, which hurts worse than anything at all.
Mark is still holding that wrist.
We make it to his place and he and I fall onto his couch at the same time. Birdie stands near the door and Sally runs to the kitchen sink to get a wet dishrag. She checks in the freezer for ice. The trays are still empty.
“Do you think he broke it?” she asks, pulling up my shirt. Her fingers are little knives against the skin. The rag feels good though.
“Maybe. I’m gonna kill him.”
“Don’t even talk to him. Carl Yoder is a grade-A douchebag, and you know it. Just stay away from him, and Doug. Did you really do what he said back at the movies?”
“I might have. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, Mark.” I turn my head and look at him, but he’s staring at the blank TV set. Birdie’s still standing over by the door. “I’ve fucked everything up, haven’t I? I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to.”
Mark breaks out of his silence and kicks at his coffee table. “I’ll buy a fucking gun tomorrow. That’ll teach those assholes.”
You can purchase The Starlights here: Amazon