Chapter 1: Matthew (continued)
“I’ve always tried to listen,” I say. “I’m just excited 'cause he really seemed crazy about me.”
My mother frowns. “You’ve had lots of boyfriends. They were all crazy about you. You’re just beautiful but you’ve got to do right. God doesn’t bless people who don’t do right. You’ve got to stay under his umbrella. Every time you step out from under it, he literally mourns for you. Don’t you forget. I've seen the face of God; I know how he feels.”
The crack I can’t hold together grows larger. I know what she means. Don’t call him and heaven forbid, don’t sleep with him. “I need someone to love me,” I say, the words shooting out like an embarrassing burp I couldn't suppress.
“I love you, Peyton.” She almost sings the words, her arms and body suddenly all over me. Her angular face, sculptured to the point of hollow, nearly sucks me in.
“It’s not the same,” I say. “You have to love me. You’re obligated.”
“You’re wrong there. Mothers don’t have to love their children.”
I look away. “Well they usually do.”
“What about all those children murdered every day? Nobody’s lovin’ them.” Her voice cracks. “Abortion is murder.”
I feel an excruciating yank in my gut. She’s sucking something out of me. Huge tears emerge and I watch as they fall from her eyes. She’s stealing my pain again. “But you just said mothers don’t have to love their children.”
“Well they certainly should.”
“Then you’re sayin’ they are obligated?”
She grabs her head again and I wonder if it somehow helps put her thoughts in order. “I guess so,” she says, her words barely audible. Confused, I bolt from the couch and head for the stairs. She scurries after me. Before I can escape she manages to corner me in a full-blown good night hug. Overcome with love for her, I fall limp into the embrace only she can provide. Nothing in my life ever felt like mother. The soft warmth, the sweet smell, and the deep, mellow pain of knowing mother doesn’t last forever. Not in the way you want it to.
“See Mom, you do have to love me,” I whisper.
She holds me tighter for a moment and then leaves me standing alone in the darkness.
I fall asleep thinking of Matt Adler’s heart-shaped smile, hoping he’ll be in my dreams. Instead I see myself lying naked beneath a tall tree at the center of a field. My head is near the trunk and I gaze up into it, searching for something. The leaves are the green of new spring.
Suddenly, the branches twist and creak. The leaves begin to turn brown, shrivel, and disappear. The limbs break, one by one. They're small, almost deteriorated, and as they fall harder and faster, they turn into tiny arms and legs. I scream. They're grotesque, with pieces of bone, sliced and serrated at disturbing angles. Dangling vessels protrude from them. The tree is dying.
Thirsting for something I’ve lost, I open my mouth to catch the blood. Accepting my fate, I show no signs of desperation. The arms and legs grow larger, hurting me as they crash into me, one by one. The grass becomes dark from the bloody shower. I begin to disappear, sinking into the softening earth beneath me. Blood covers my dream and what is left of me. I begin to weep as I lose sight of myself.
When I finally bring myself to look again, I’m no longer there. There’s only a mound of bloody, bruised arms and legs, some tiny, some large, officiated by the dead tree stump. I search for a face, any face. Just before I wake, I catch sight of something in the heap of flesh. It’s a perfectly manicured set of fingernails at the end of a protruding narrow hand--my mother’s.
Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside the body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body.
I Corinthians 6:18
“That always reminds me of my dad,” Matt says, pointing to a dirty black and white sign some twenty feet from where we stand. It rattles against the nondescript building that barely holds it up.
“Louisiana Truck Bodies?” I ask, confused.
We stand hand in hand on the dusty sidewalk. I can see his apartment in the distance, our long walk nearly over. The wind pushes me forward but I resist. Two tiny whirlwinds dance in the gas station parking lot that runs into the side of the body shop. It’s cooler than usual and I smell rain.
Matt begins to walk again and I follow. “Every time I see that sign my dad’s face pops into my head. He’s like a big truck, you know, powerful but domineerin' as hell. I told you he’s 6’4”, right?”
I shake my head in agreement.
“He thinks he owns the frickin’ road.”
“I’ve never even noticed the place,” I say, looking back.
“You’ve got to use your observation skills a little more.” He frequently throws these tidbits of wisdom at me, like warnings. Sometimes I write them down.
In a fit of excitement, I jump on his back, wrapping my arms and legs around him. “Matthew Adler, Observer of Life,” I proclaim as if to knight him with some glorious title. He carries me on his back against the breeze for several yards and then lowers me to my feet.
Debris hits my arms and legs as it sails through the rising wind. The air is electric. It pulls people out of the various industrial businesses that line the road. They stand just outside the doors, looking toward the darkening sky. “I make observations,” I say, glancing back again at the rattling sign. “I just don’t see the same thangs you do.” What I see usually confuses me so I keep it to myself.
“So what do you see?” he asks.
His question catches me off guard, as if I talked big and now have to prove it. “It’s obvious that you have some kinda issue with your dad.” I stare at the ground and try not to step on the cracks in the sidewalk so I don’t break my mother’s back. “You usually talk about him like he’s perfect. I've never heard you talk like this; somethin's goin' on.”
He stops so abruptly that his feet seem to be stuck in the black tar dotting the sidewalk in splotches. He leans toward me as he often does when preparing to say something profound. His eyes narrow. “My dad means well but he’s either slow, burdened by his preconceived ideas, or he’s barrelin’ down my neck like there’s no frickin’ tomorrow.”
I feel uncomfortable and pull his hand but he doesn’t budge.
“Sometimes I just wanna say, ‘Get the fuck off the road. Just get off the fuckin’ road.’”
A slew of cars zoom past and an odd, falling sensation comes over me. I think he’s mad at me. That somehow I’ve caused him to yell. It’s a sick familiar feeling. “Come on, don’t be mad. My mom’s like that, too. She carries a load of ideas and mistakes and sufferin’. Maybe your dad does, too. I just feel sorry for ‘em.”
“Everybody and his brother has an excuse. They’re just jerks.”
“I don’t think they’re jerks. Some people just have strong convictions for whatever reason, and they don’t have a very big range in which to express ‘em.” I smile inwardly, pleased that I’m beginning to sound like him. “Their range is too narrow. They cain’t see the big picture. That’s what I try to see—the big picture. I try to understand people so I can forgive ’em.”
He turns and hollers thinking I’m further behind. “Maybe you’re too forgivin’.” I’m startled by the lack of distance between us and the knowledge that he may be right.
“But I don’t feel very forgivin’ most of the time. That’s why I keep tryin’ so hard.” I look down into the crack I’m standing on. “Little thangs are easy to forgive.”
“To err is human, to forgive, divine,” he says. “There’s a reason why that line keeps livin’ on.”
“But some people are born with a deep, narrow hole that gets filled up too tight. Probably gets hard to manage,” I say, still trying to defend my right to be forgiving. “I’m startin’ to think we’re all born that way, with that big hole.”
He shakes his head. “I don’t know about that, but I’m not thrilled about bein’ at school with my dad every day. He’ll fill up my hole all right. He’s gettin’ to be a pain in the ass.”
I look away, embarrassed by his crude remark. “But he’s not teachin’ your classes, is he?” I ask.
“No, but he’ll know exactly what I’m doin’ every second. He’s like that. When I started at LSUS I had to do gymnastics just to get my own apartment; he wanted me to live at home. I convinced him I could study better on my own. He’ll do anythang for a frickin’ grade. He said, ‘First B and you’re comin’ home.’”
I feel compelled to say, “Yeah, my mom would do anythang for God. First sin and you’re headed for hell,” but can’t bring myself to say it. Instead I say, “Well, Louisiana Truck Bodies doesn’t look like it’s hurtin’ for business.”
“The place is always packed with trucks. Sometimes you cain’t even see the sign. It looks like a junk yard.”
“At least some of ‘em got off the road,” I say, smiling as if it could cheer him up. Rain is falling in the distance and I know it will soon be overhead, so I run and wait for him at his apartment door. “What took you so long?” I ask, smiling, as he approaches moments later.
He doesn’t answer. Instead he sits down beside me, looking worried. “My dad doesn’t know about you, but when school starts he’ll find out.”
“Would he rather you have a boyfriend?” I ask, laughing. He sits, stone faced and I feel insensitive. “Why does your dad care about your love life anyway? You’re not ten ... and we’re not engaged.”
“He’s got reasons.”
“Are you breakin’ up with me?”
He looks up at the sky and half whispers, “I don’t really care what he says.” Then he stands up to unlock the door. “He can pack up that big truck body of his and get the hell out of my life.” His keys jingle as they drop back into his deep plaid pocket.
I follow him inside, smiling again like a dumb puppy. Just as I get through the door he pulls me against him. It’s the closest to that warm, soft mother love I’ve ever felt. The sinking feeling that it may not last forever is there, too.
“My dad and I were always a team,” he says. “He spent a lot of time helpin’ me.” He shakes his head; there’s a familiar sadness in his gesture that confuses me. “He knew I was smart and he pushed me, and I wanted to be pushed. I owe him a lot but I don’t think I need his help anymore. Not like that.”
I nestle my head in his chest. “He didn't actually help you with college, did he?’
“He made it his business to monitor my progress.”
“Well, look how far you’ve gotten. You probably think I’m stupid.” In comparison, I worry that I’m lacking but there’s a dark room in my head that knows I’m not; the light just hasn’t turned on yet.
He pushes me back so he can look at my face. “First of all, I’d never pick a girl based on intelligence. And anyway, you’re a lot smarter than your personality allows you to be.”
I’ve got to remember to write that one down, I think. And for the first time in my life, I desperately want to flip the switch. I want the light.
“You need to use that big picture mentality of yours and decide what you really want.”
“I just don’t see how I’m supposed to know what I want when I’m only seventeen.”
“I’ve always known.”
“Did you know or did your dad know?”
He doesn’t like the question and pushes me away, but before I can react he’s somehow managed to maneuver me up the stairs and into his bedroom. We fall onto the bed in a sweaty, sexy heap of arms and legs. “None of that stuff matters,” he says, kissing me.
“Life’s not a road,” I finally say, “and your dad’s not really a truck.”
“Of course life’s a road,” he whispers into my ear. It sounds like a song. “You’ve got to make the right turns. My dad taught me that. And he is a big, frickin’ truck. Somethin’ I will never be.”
I stroke his hair. I understand his anger and his love, and how they exist at the same time for the same person, for a parent. “Me neither,” I promise but am not so sure. I’ve been parked at the loading dock for years. I cling to him, wondering how a person is supposed to unload. All I want is to unload what I have before it’s too late. “Please don’t be sad,” I say to him but feel as if I’m talking to myself.
“I never get sad, just angry.”
“I’m the opposite.”
“I guess that makes us a good match.”
“Maybe we can help each other be more well-rounded in our misery.”
“Can you handle that?” he asks, breathing into my ear.
I look away. “I can handle anythang,” I lie.
“I have a couple of buckets for that,” he says, noticing my eyes on the large crack in his ceiling.
“A leak," he says, still whispering. "The manager promised to fix it this week, but I'm not holdin' my breath.”
I’m surprised I haven’t noticed the damage until now. Then I realize that in the six or seven weeks since we met I’ve only been in his bed at night. We developed a pattern of movie going and frat-party hopping. Each time we consummate our night beneath the covers of his twin bed. Today feels different, perhaps because it’s only late afternoon. Even so, the light of day is not so bright. The storm we saw in the distance is drawing near. I feel it coming and I know, because of some sixth Southern sense I’ve developed, that it won’t be long.
His hand travels up the naked slope of my hip toward my waist. Rather than feeling his hand against my skin, I feel my body against his hand. A heightened awareness of the angle he’s tracing and the smoothness of my own skin will give me days worth of confidence. I imagine him performing the same gesture over and over again.
I’ve never felt so lovely, and I crave lovely just like I crave love, real love, the kind that comes to you simply because of who you are.
Raising my chin toward him, I grab a single whisker between my teeth. It rips from his face as my jaw clenches and my head jerks. With the sudden sting, he rolls on top of me. “Listen,” he whispers. As the rain hits, I feel its impact. I remember the leak and my eyes shoot to the right of the small bed.
He scrambles from the blankets that has us wrapped in knots. “I’ll get the bucket.”
“Don’t,” I say, pushing him toward the leak. He manages to grab the blanket, hoping to put it on the floor as some sort of pitiful protection. I stand beneath the damaged ceiling as he scurries to place it under my feet. The rain drips onto my shoulders and hair. It rolls down my face. Finally, he stands beside me and massages my head with his nerdy, perfect hands, washing the water through my hair.
“Rain makes me sad,” I whisper. "I don't know why."
He moans as if he’s sad, too.
“What does it mean to you?” I ask.
“Life and death,” he says.
“Acid rain. Nature requires rain but it can be destructive, too.”
“Like love?” I ask but he doesn’t seem to hear.
“Over time not only nature suffers. Monuments and art also deteriorate. It’s killin’our past and our future. The whole world’s dyin’ in a slow, sick way.” His face glows with an intellectual light that I want.
Type B, I remember. Then I think, I’d die for you, Matthew Adler.
He doesn’t seem to notice that I’m crying as he stares up at the wounded ceiling. Most of the rain bounces off his face, but some of it runs down the sides of his cheeks like giant, unnatural tears.
A clap of thunder startles me. “Are you gonna break up with me?” I ask again.
“No, I swear.” His cheek rubs against my damp hair. We tumble onto the damp blanket and our bodies move together in a sort of teenage seizure that peels away our young, ripe skin. Pressing into him, I feel my sense of self expand, and I wonder if my life might actually turn out okay. The now darkened room lights up in bright flashes of reality. For brilliant moments, I have the chance to see him clearly but I choose to close my eyes.
Hours later we rest on the damp floor. As I lift my head to gaze at him, I think of my mother. I feel strange, like a child again, and suddenly crave the closeness I felt snuggling next to her in the dark. She was beautiful when she slept. But even so, her perfect face had been rubbery and cold like a smiling doll that frightens children in the dark. Then I realize she's like Matt's dad, filled with a truckload of crap I don't understand.
My eyes circle Matt’s room like radar. Every object seems to hold great significance: numerous advanced math and physics books; a bottle of contact lens solution; dusty coins strewn atop his old, child-sized dresser. The small bed belongs with the dresser. They’re a set, never to be parted, but oddly out-of-place in the room of a medical school student.
My eyes return to boy I love; his angular face looks oddly like hers.
“What’s wrong?” he asks.
“Nothin’,” I lie, feeling alienated. As always, something is missing. I want to tell him I’m the very thing he hates: a truck body. There are so many words I want to say but can’t. I’m trying to move up a steep hill so I can unload the very baggage that makes my journey so hard.
Watch for Chapter 2 of BOUNDARIES during the week of June 28th!
BOUNDARIES is Penelope Przekop's first novel. It's a work of fiction based on true events. Since writing BOUNDARIES, she has completed two other novels. ABERRATIONS was published by Greenleaf Book Group in 2008. CENTERPIECES is currently being considered by several publishers. Penelope is currently working on her fourth novel, DUST.