I thought about Claire and Andrew Coen the son of a bitch while Johnny and I walked toward the wash. Scattered along the dusty path were Coke and Mountain Dew cans popped with bullet holes from Andrew Coen’s .22. I had seen him out here shooting before with his buddies, showing off the gun that they all so admired, even Claire. It had been over a year, I’m sure, since she thought about me, before high school, and she wouldn’t stop popping into my head every time I saw one of those cans.
The water was flowing in the wash, and as tradition Johnny and I had decided to walk down and pretend we were kids again. Johnny said it was like one of those boy movies where the group of kids go down and have an adventure, like Stand by Me or The Outsiders. Except here there was no forest. And here there was no green and no misty fog hanging over the horizon, and there were no train tracks to skip along or old baseball fields to pass by. There was only dirt and weeds, and an occasional gopher hole or Coke can.
Johnny talked most of the time, as he likes to do, while we walked down the path. He talked about how his mom moved out, and how he knew his parents, any day now, were going to announce their divorce. He said it was because of her and this guy she met in the church choir. Johnny had always been a smart guy, much smarter than me at least, and because of this I tended to drift out of conversation and let my mind wander in its own more sensical world.
By the whim of a holey, lead-filled Coke can, I remembered the only time I was ever beaten up in school. It was second grade. We were in line, boys on the left, girls on the right, on our way to P.E., and behind me was Andrew Coen the son of a bitch. As we marched, in my infinite stupidity, I stepped on one of the little cracks between the concrete. Andrew Coen poked me in my sad, chubby side and said:
“Step on the crack and break your mother’s back!”
I didn’t respond.
That night Andrew Coen’s mother, incidentally, slipped on a freshly mopped floor at Chic-a-Fillet, shattering five segments of her thoracic vertebrae, rendering her completely paraplegic. The next day Andrew Coen kicked me in the balls while I was waiting for the teacher to unlock the door for homeroom, and in a fit of fury called me “son of a bitch.”
I continued to be engulfed by my past as Johnny and I walked. I pretended to listen to him, an art I had nearly perfected throughout my relationship with Claire. The water soon came into sight, just beyond the mesquite trees, and I snapped back to his semi-monologue. Johnny was talking about these two girls, both friends, whom he had dated one right after another.
“When Ally has a boyfriend, it’s like no one else exists,” he said. I agreed. “And Jen says she’s too busy, and that she’s in the middle of ‘growing up.’” He paused and looked at my shoes sweeping up dust. “Like no one else is growing up! What’s with everyone and this ‘growing up’ shit? Who the fuck isn’t growing up?”
“At least she’s not dating Andrew Coen,” I said, “the son of a bitch.”
“You know, I was such a nice guy to the both of them,” he concluded, “which means, I’m sure, they have nothing but awful things to say about me.”
I laughed. It was when Johnny said things like that which made me remember why the girls liked him so much. I hid my envy well, though; taking pride in that Johnny held me to a high standard - that he could be as sophisticated as he was able, with no apprehension of appearing pretentious.
From nowhere a loud bang exploded in the near distance, and my head jolted toward the noise. I looked at Johnny, and he looked at me, and a small flock of birds abandoned their perches hidden in the landscape.
“Eh,” Johnny said simply, and kept strolling, attempting to assure me with his apathy.
“What do you think that was?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” he looked at me and replied aptly, “Probably Andrew Coen, the son of a bitch.” He was a clever bastard, he really was.
Somewhere along the trail I arrived in my childhood again, or what I guess you could call my childhood. It was only a few years ago, really - my sophomore year in high school, and Claire and I were laying on my futon. I was rubbing my hand up her legs, near her thigh, and kissing the back of her neck. My nose scraped her cheek and I felt nervous because it was so big. She grabbed my hand for the first time and stopped me. She turned around and told me she loved me like a brother, like a father. I listened to her say how it hadn’t felt right for a while, but that she needed me in her life, and that she didn’t tell me before because she didn’t want to lose me, and that…
“Huh?” Johnny asked me. We were walking still. I had sighed, apparently.
We arrived, and Johnny and I skipped rocks across the deep and filthy water. There were spots where large logs interrupted its flow, like pimples on the face of a supermodel, like Claire had when we first started dating. How beautiful she had become, but always was. I knew I was the only one who would ever appreciate that. One day, I said to myself, she would realize that, too, and leave Andrew Coen and come back to me.
The sun beat down on me and Johnny, as it does in summer, and we bonded more like the boys in those movies than we would ever admit. I strayed shortly upstream in search of some more skipping rocks. Distracted, I saw a very large leaf. I took it and put it in the water. At that moment it became my own brilliant vessel, which I sent on a miraculous journey westward. I pulled out my wiener and started to take a piss in the weeds, admiring my ship's trip abroad. Suddenly, from the East, my eye caught sight of another leafy vessel chasing mine, avoiding the shipwrecked tumbleweeds, in full motion. Beneath it was a trail of what looked like red oil, creamy and vicious in the untainted water.
With a zesty crunch, Andrew Coen washed into the weeds. There was a large gaping hole in the side of his head. I remembered the bang and the birds and the sudden sound of his .22. I stood frozen for what could very well have been an hour, but was likely only a matter of seconds. I called Johnny over and put my wiener back into my pants.
“Holy hell,” he said, and that was it.
I said what I thought of, which was nothing, and stood in shock and horror and happiness.