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The Girlfriend Game, stories by Nick Antosca



Word Riot Inc.: Kicking Small Press Into High Gear
Short Stories

They Keep Their Quiet by Emil Ostrovski

I remember the red house, the one at the end of my old cul-de-sac, with the gray dodge in the driveway and the woods off to the side. A tired, overgrown path runs through those woods, and in a few years there will be no path at all. Just as well. The red house has a “for sale” sign out front—the children who once danced under the sprinklers on summer days, whose names I once knew, who once stood at the same bus stop as me, these children have buried their parents and are now trying to sell their childhood. It is a buyer’s market for childhoods these days, but no one’s buying.
     Before I moved away, grew up, went off to college, got married, and all the while tried to forget, I ran down that path till I got to the pond, the cottages. With Mark, always there, still there now, he showed me the path in the first place.
     He gestured to the pond, the little houses, decaying and ruined and beautiful in the gloom of the forest, and said, “It’s ours now.” No brothers or sisters, no girls or parents, just us, always us.
     We fished and swam. We made fires with pilfered matches and pretended to be explorers, heroes, hunted the wild beasts that prowled the wilderness—became Gods of that forgotten space, between two neighborhoods, nestled in the trees. The ghosts of those who once lived there worshipped us in the creaking of doors and the whispering of the wind, and, after darkness fell and we went to our separate homes for the night, we knew they would come out, out of the earth and the shadows in which they slept, and they would pray for our return, for the return of the boys of the flesh.
     They watched us at play, watched us as we kissed. Mark asked “How did it feel?” and I said “Wet. Your tongue was in my mouth,” and he said “That’s how it’s supposed to be, idiot,” and I said “You’re just bad at it,” and he said “You don’t know anything,” and then we wrestled. Whenever we wrestled at our houses, our parents would stop us, they would tell us we’d hurt ourselves. My parents would reproach me, as I was bigger than Mark, say it wasn’t fair. They didn’t understand it wasn’t about winning—a lot of times I let him win. It was about the feel of his body against mine, about how furiously my heart would beat in our tangle of legs and arms, about how I could feel the beating of his heart.
     That was why we sought a path to somewhere else, a path that only we could share. We would take off our shirts—the guys on UFC and WWE all fought without shirts—interlock our arms, and push at each other as hard as we could, push each other down to the grass, or under the water and it would end when one of us tapped out.
     I remember I was so angry with him that spring day. We got into an argument, I don’t even know over what, and he called me fag and the whole class laughed. On the bus ride back, he told me we couldn’t do gay stuff anymore. We could still go to the pond and the cottages, but no more kissing. After we got off, we walked past the gray dodge and blooming flowers, started up the path, and I asked him if we could still wrestle. I told him I wanted to wrestle. He gave me a confident smile and said, “Bring it on. But we keep our shirts on.”
     I remember being surprised at how weak he was when I wasn’t playing anymore, when I wanted to hurt him, to humiliate him, to make him tap out so quickly he’d feel ashamed, to make him take it back, all of it. I wrapped my legs around his waist, my arm around his neck, pressed his head against my chest and pulled him in to me. He turned red and I told him to tap out. Tap out like a little girl, a little fag, so I could tell everyone at school the next day how quick I beat him.
     He pulled at my arm, tried to lift himself up and away, but I had him, and squeezed harder, and told him to tap out. I whispered faggot in his ear and felt the frantic thumping of his heart. I would’ve let him go if he’d tapped out.
     He didn’t. I closed my eyes and thought of the class laughing, of him saying no more gay stuff, and squeezed harder, hard as I could.
     I told him to tap out.
     When I finally let go, the laughter in my head had died.
     I said, “Mark? Mark? Mark—stop playing. Mark.” I shook him, kicked him, said “I’m sorry,” pleaded with him, shook him again, kissed him, tried to open his mouth and feel his tongue in mine and then I screamed.
     I dragged him to the pond, and left him there, beneath the water. I went home and when my parents asked me how my day had been, how Mark was, I told them I hadn’t seen Mark, that he’d gone to the store at the corner of Willington to buy candy and hadn’t come back.
     I’d seen the shows. I knew the police would find him, eventually, and take me to jail. I knew it, waited for it, but though they talked to me, it never went past that. They never found him. I think something evil happened there, by the pond, by those cottages. I think the inhabitants of that place hid him, made the pond swallow him up, so we would both have to be like them—silent.
     I would’ve let him go if he’d tapped out.
     We had laughter and the dead had their silence, and though they worshipped our laughter, I think they wanted to silence us out of envy, for what is left to the dead to keep, but quiet? If we hadn’t found that path, we would never have kissed. Yes, I’m sure of it—in their envy the dead cast down their boy-Gods. Or maybe the dead were the Gods all along, and we were just children, pretending at more. It hardly even matters now. The path will be completely overgrown in a few years. Nobody will visit them anymore. He will remain among them, forever, and nobody will visit, and maybe I will be able to forget.

9 comments to They Keep Their Quiet by Emil Ostrovski

  • This is absolutely wonderful. Great job. :)

  • Emil

    Thank you Mia!

  • Mike Miner

    Captures the wonder and terror of childhood while also providing something completely unique. Powerful stuff. The ending blew me away.

  • Emil

    Glad you enjoyed the story Mike, thanks for reading!

  • I would’ve let him go if he’d tapped out.

    Intense. Dark and emotional. This is the kind of writing that sweeps me along, and shakes me to the core. Great!

  • Emil

    Thanks for reading Lori, and taking the time to leave a comment. I’m glad you enjoyed the story!

  • Larry Blumen

    I enjoyed reading this, but now I’m wondering what it is. It’s labeled as a short story. It’s short, but it doesn’t seem to be a story. A meditation, maybe, or a poem in prose.

  • Emil

    Larry, thanks so much for reading, and taking the time to comment. I think you’re right, the piece is reminiscent of a poem in prose, but then, I’m not sure there’s a clear dividing line between poetry and prose. There’s this fantastic book I’m reading, A Manuscript of Ashes by Antonio Munoz Molina. It’s a novel, yet each individual sentence is like a little poem, to my ear. If you like, you can read the first few pages on Amazon.com for free to get an idea of what I mean. I highly recommend it. Thank you again for reading my work!

  • wow. WOWWOWOWOWOWOW. I’m just so enamored with your writing. This piece was amazing and beautiful, and morbid and dark. My sense were all over the place while reading this. Just fantastic.

    Mel

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