Were he not my cousin, I would have married him. This was the summer after I had flunked out of beauty school and the two of us were painting houses for his father's business. After work, we'd sit in his basement apartment and drink beer and talk about how we weren't getting any until we started getting some with each other. I thought he was the best thing in the world and he saw nothing wrong with this observation. He wore, at all times, a camouflage hat with the brim flipped up to reveal the word Metallica written in magic marker. He played bass guitar because he said it sounded like a heart about to explode. Good Jesus, he smoked so much crystal meth, I thought for sure I could convince him to marry me but he still seemed to understand that he couldn't do that. "Your mom would not be happy," he said while we lay in bed, his body vibrating against his will. "We wouldn't tell anyone," I said. "They'd find out where we were registered," he said.
Years later, once he started sleeping with someone else and forgot that I existed, he hooked up with a band that ended up becoming, inexplicably, famous. The band was named Oh, Cyrus and they were defined as "Southern Gothic Hillbilly Swamp Music for Stoners" by a magazine whose pages were as thin as newsprint and poorly edited. They got a song in a commercial for potato chips that had so much flavor it was outrageous. They opened for Parasites Like Us when Parasites Like Us was playing stadiums. They got a really huge record deal and then they were on TV, being interviewed by people who seemed to be completely unfamiliar with their music. I saw him on one of these shows and he no longer wore the homemade Metallica hat, but he was wearing a t-shirt that read Oh, Cyrus, which seemed odd, like he'd run out of clothes and was wearing band merchandise.
"Who writes the songs?" the man in a suit asked. My cousin raised his hand. "And what are your songs about?" the man asked, genuinely curious. My cousin would not make eye contact with the interviewer but answered, "The songs are about being lied to." The interviewer nodded like this was a very satisfactory answer. "If Stevie Wonder's songs were in the key of life, what key are your songs in?" the interviewer asked. My cousin said he had no idea what this meant. "They're in a lot of keys," the drummer said. The lead singer finally answered, "They key of being angry," and he smiled like he'd answered a question correctly on a game show. My cousin got up and walked off-camera and did not return.
We were at a family reunion two summers ago and I asked him how rich he was. He said he was not rich at all. "I spent all my money and then the money that was going to replace it never showed up," he said. I was pretty drunk and so I said, "You should have married me and I would have made sure you put your money in stocks." He shook his head. "I think I did put some of the money in stocks," he said, "that didn't work either." I tried to kiss him and he let me because no one was watching us. I felt like if we didn't sleep together that night, my whole life was going to be a failure. "Wouldn't we have been happy together?" I asked him. "Sure," he said, "that's probably true, but just because it makes you happy doesn't mean you should do it." That sounded like the dumbest thing in the world to me, but I kissed him again anyway.
He drove his car into a tree a few weeks later. After the funeral, drinking beer and eating meat on sticks, I sat down beside my aunt and told her that I was her son's one true love. "We were meant to be," I said, "but it wasn't meant to be." She nodded, though I couldn't tell if she had heard me. "If my name wasn't so hard to rhyme," I told her, "he'd have written a hundred songs about me." I asked my aunt if she understood and she nodded again. "The two of you should have gotten married," she said, holding my hand, "and had a retarded baby." I thought about punching her in the face, but I couldn't even tell if she was being mean. I decided that she was telling me that she wouldn't have stood in the way of our happiness, however awful it would have turned out.
Someone put on an Oh, Cyrus CD and we listened to the bass line move so quickly without a single false note, a sound that seemed destined to fall apart but would wait until the song was over to do it.
About the author:
Kevin Wilson was born, raised, and still lives in Tennessee. His fiction has appeared in Ploughshares, One Story, Pindeldyboz, and DIAGRAM. A collection of short stories, Tunneling to the Center of the Earth, is forthcoming in 2009 from Ecco/HarperCollins.
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