Note: To learn more about Penelope Przekop's novel, BOUNDARIES, and to start reading at the beginning, go here !
Chapter 11: Bartholomew
At the hospital, Matt holds my hand while a huge doctor the nurses call Big Doc sews ten stitches beneath my skin and twenty something more to close the wound. Big Doc explains how the ones inside will dissolve on their own; the ones on the outside will have to be ripped out. Matt listens intently but fails to mention that he’s a medical student. He looks sad.
When we leave the hospital, Matt drives to his apartment as if he knows I don’t want him in my bed. What we have together is far removed from the sleazy things that recently happened there. We don’t talk in the car, perhaps still embarrassed by the situation. Neither of us gave Big Doc a clear story as to what actually caused the wound.
Once at his apartment Matt undresses me. Like a child, I move my arms and legs at his visual request. A thin layer of dirt covers us both. Most people would put their dirt-covered clothes into a neat little pile, keeping them separate from the other normal discarded clothes. They would rush to the shower, desperate to be clean. But the drowning sensation Matt and I share, our mutual gasps for breath, led us to the barren field and now, it keeps us from showering. Instead, I stand at the end of his twin bed and watch as he strips it down. The old, naked mattress is dotted with large yellow circles, created by childhood bed-wetting.
As I stare down at his stains, I know he’s letting me in on a secret and I respond by lying over them without hesitation. With me, there’s no need for embarrassment about the bed-wetting, about the wound, or about his failure. I lay naked on my stomach, the side of my head smashed into his pillow. It smells like acne medicine and Polo cologne. He stands next to the bed, staring at my body. He doesn’t take off his clothes. There’s no music. Everything is bare and naked, everything but his body.
I force myself to speak. “Would your parents really disown you if they knew about us?” The side of my mouth is close against the pillow, slurring my speech. “People don’t disown each other anymore. Do they?”
He shoves his hands in his pockets and sits on the edge of the bed. “You called my mom that time. I wish you hadn’t done that.”
I stare at his back. “She didn’t act like she hated me or anything. I don’t think she hates me,” I say, sounding desperate.
“It doesn’t have anything to do with you personally,” he says. “My parents’ biggest fear in life is that I’ll get distracted. They’re obsessed.”
I think about my own mother’s obsessions.
“They don’t want me to develop too many other interests.” My blood, dry and dark, cover the back of his shirt. I wonder why he hasn’t taken it off. “They’re right, you know,” he says, his voice soft and mushy.
“But you were in the fraternity. That’s a distraction.”
“My dad was in that fraternity.”
“Peter says you were mad at me because you made that B last summer.”
“It kept me from graduating summa cum laude. But that’s nothing. Now I...” He doesn’t need to finish.
A loud, gushing noise fills the room. I think it’s the air conditioning but realize it’s rain. “That field’s probably gettin’ all muddy,” I say, imagining what it would be like to roll with him in the slippery mess. It would be quite a different experience than rolling across the hard, dry dirt.
My toes would submerge much farther into the soil. The tree’s roots would emerge mountainous around me as the mud shrinks away, soft and pliable. The killer soil would coats our bodies until we slid closer, merging into one another. Perhaps in the end it would kill us, too. In the morning, our parents would find our bodies, a brown heap at the foot of that big dead tree.
“It’ll be dry by noon tomorrow,” he says.
It’s true. Nothing ever stays wet for long in Louisiana.
I hold my breath and ask the question that frightens him the most. “Do you really wanna be in med school? I mean, do you even want to be a doctor?”
“Every parent wants their kid to grow up to be a doctor. It’s a popular version of the American dream. My father regrets that he didn’t go to med school instead of graduate school. He’d be makin’ a lot more money.”
I interrupt, thinking that being a doctor sounds great. “It’s true, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, but I don’t care about all that,” he says, finally lying down beside me. The small bed forces us to touch but he tries to give me space. The more he fights against the bed, the more its weak mattress moves, moving me, and the more I move, the more it hurts.
I suck in some air. “What do you really want?”
“I wanna be a doctor.”
“But you just said ... ”
His body falls against me and his hand covers my mouth. He presses his lips against my ear as if to divulge a secret. “I wanna be a doctor but not for those reasons,” he whispers. “When I sank my hands into that cadaver ... I knew. Until that moment I was just movin’ forward because that’s what I’ve always done. I’ve never thought I was supposed to do anythangmovin,’ fast as you can. Don’t stop.’ Like it’s some kinda fuckin’ race. But that day I knew. Somethin’ changed,” he whispers. “It became an art ... a religion.” The awe-struck love in his voice has the ring of my mother’s, whispering through the darkness all those years ago. My heart beats hard and fast. I want to hear the passion and hope of someone else’s dream. Somehow, hearing my mother’s then and Matt’s now, feeds my own.
“I know I can do it,” he says, moving away from me. His sudden withdrawal reminds me of the hospital IV needle. The nurse had yanked it out without a warning. He takes off his shirt, holds it up, and stares at my dried blood for nearly a minute.
When his words came again, they’re fast and concentrated, like spit he gathered in his mouth and can’t swallow. “It shouldn’t matter that I’m young. I’ve always been younger than everybody. I could have skipped a couple of grades, but I begged my parents not to force me, not to make me even younger. I was doing high school algebra. I was takin’ college courses the summer between eighth and ninth grade. Bein’ young never stopped me before.”
He crumbles the shirt into a tight ball. “This is trash,” he says, slamming it across the room. It hits the wall and falls in a heap next to the door. “My dad’s embarrassed. He told me.”
“Maybe your dad knows how you feel. Maybe he’s just tryin’ to help in his own way.”
“No, he has a dream of his own.”
“But it’s not his dream. It’s yours.”
He lies back down beside me and I’m afraid he won’t stay. Trapped by my throbbing wound, I’m pinned to his bed, but he can’t decide whether he wants to lie in it, next to me, or not. He gently gathers my growing hair into a one-inch ponytail. “He won’t let go of it. He thinks he’s sharin’ something great with me but ...”
“He’s stealin’,” I say. I want to tell him that my mother steals from me but I don’t
He sits up and then falls back again. The bed shakes, hurting my back.
I wish he’d be still.
He suddenly laughs. It’s a strange laughter that makes me shiver. I long to cradle him in my arms, to tell him everything will be okay. But I’m wounded. I’ve always been wounded. I take my deepest breath yet. “I know how you feel now.”
He continues to laugh until it becomes fake, practically spurts of breath. “Peyton, I already told you. I cain’t be involved with you or anybody.”
“You said you weren’t gonna deny it tonight.”
“I was a little drunk.”
“I thought you didn’t drink.”
“Then why ... ”
“Look, the fact is, it’s wrong for us to be together. There’s too much at stake now. I’m in a shit load of trouble.” Sign language, spoken by his shaking hands as they unzip his shorts and pull them off, contradicts his words. “I tried to tell you last year and look what happened.”
“You’re not the only one who has stuff at stake,” I say. “I have dreams, too.”
“I know you do but I cain’t make them happen just like you cain’t make mine happen.”
“Why cain’t we have them together? Why does it have to be so complicated? It’s so stupid.” My neck hurts.
He turns on his side, propping his head on his hand. His elbow digs into the dry circles of urine. “One day we’ll see each other in the mall or at a movie or somethin’.”
I try to shake my head, to tell him he’s wrong, but my position makes it impossible.
“You’ll have a couple of kids hangin’ on you,” he continues. “You’ll still be beautiful. And you’ll be happy ... really happy. Once you recognize me, you’ll smile and then I’ll smile, but we’ll just keep walkin’. There won’t be anythang to say. You’ll know then that I’m right.”
“No! That's not my dream. My dreams are bigger than that.”
“There’s nothin’ wrong with that dream.” He strokes my arm and it hurts. “A lot of people have that dream.”
“I don’t want the same dream as everybody else. I don’t wanna a common dream.” My whole body hurts. “It makes me sick.”
“Maybe it’s common because everybody wants it and nobody achieves it.”
“Most people have children. That’s easy,” I protest, frustrated.
“But most people aren’t happy or fulfilled. Remember, few people make it. I think in the end we all have the same dream.”
Everybody’s happier than me. “But I want a callin’ ... like you.”
“You won’t hear it like this.” He stares at the ceiling. “Hopefully, one day you will. Maybe about the time I see you at the mall. You’ll hear it like a siren, wailing in your ears. It’ll bust your fuckin’ ear drums.”
The passion in his voice ignites something in me. “But you’re my siren. I’m happy when I’m with you.”
“No, you’re not. You’re miserable.”
“How do you know how I feel? I’m happy! I swear to God I’m happy.” His head shakes, and its back and forth movement wounds me all over again. My eyes sting and tear. “How do you know?”
His dirty hand runs over the length of my body, torturing me. “Because I’m like you.”
Tears stream down my full cheeks, the ones people still like to squeeze, never realizing how much it hurts. Thousands of tiny guardian angels flock toward the wound created by Matt’s rejection. They stitch it, tight and secure, with the yarn that connects people together and fish to poles. For a moment, I’m no longer lonely. “You have to believe me, most people don’t have dreams like ours,” I say.
He turns the lamp light off, ignoring my tears. “You don’t know that.” The angels flutter away and their flapping wings leave me cold.
Surrounded by darkness, we’re at the center of an unpredicted storm, the kind that usually wakes people. It rolls in through the nighttime sky searching for a dry, hot place to fall. I failed to smell it coming, my senses dulled by the dirt swirling around us. Lightning brightens the room again and again and I can almost hear my mother saying, “God brings the storms, Peyton.”
“What happened to you tonight?” My voice rises and falls with the groaning thunder. “Why did you come get me?”
“My dad had another heart attack yesterday. It was bad.” The smell of rain suddenly drowns out the sharp smell of his pillow. Anne with her eyelash-less eyes stands before me. Matt turns as far away from me as he can get. “And I didn’t care.”
I know he won’t face me again. I scoot closer and try to lift my stiff arm up and over his back. My shoulder blade throbs. All I can do was lie still with my head smashed to one side or the other. I stare at his back. “Are you thinkin’ about the acid rain?” I ask tenderly. He doesn’t answer, but I know he is. I know his tears fall just as far as mine. Like trails of acid, they create ditches, big holes we fall into over and over again on our way to adulthood.
Closing my eyes, I listen as the rain drenches the only world we know, the only realm I vaguely understand. I don’t consider that one day my world will be larger than what I can see at the moment, that there may be another place for me, one that is moist and dry, fluffy and clear. A different life filled with a career and malls and movie theaters, laughter and friends and bicycles bearing children—a new place where sirens can be heard, loud and clear—sirens that have nothing to do with tragedy.
The only reality wiggling into focus is that, when the time comes, Matt will return with me to the emergency room. He’ll want to watch the stitches as they pull away from my wound. There will be a scar, the kind that never goes away, and he’ll want to be the first to see its pink promise.
More of Chapter 11 coming this week.
To find out what BOUNDARIES is about and start reading at the beginning. go here .
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 working on her fourth novel, DUST.