Anywhere But Here

Something had happened to Marcus. That’s all we were told. Our homeroom teachers and schoolboard shrinks skirted around the alleged details of the accident, pushing for the family’s privacy in their time of need. The news stations didn’t report much either, likely because a minor was involved. I didn’t understand this stupid approach. Didn’t anybody ever hear about getting out in front of a story before the rumors? Bored teenagers in a small town that most people drove through, people born in a rumor mill, like their parents and their parents before them. That’s what Marcus used to say.

I think it was Jackie who started the first rumor. She claimed that Marcus had been drunk driving Dr. Fisher’s (his father’s) Mercedes again. In the cafeteria with a crowd of about twenty kids, she re-enacted Marcus barreling through the mustard field by Cheryl’s place, losing control and crashing into a fence post. Jackie was one of those theater kids. She swore Blink 182 was blaring out of his speakers moments before his car went up in flames. Keeling over, I spat my half-chewed chapati all over the table. Marcus listened exclusively to rap. He was proud of his burned CD collection that he stored under his passenger seat.

Todd’s story was different. He and Marcus were both on the football team and were close, so people believed Todd over Jackie. The players knew that Marcus had been stealing his father’s pills and that he always had a few on him. Rumour had it that in the playoff game against the Tasmanian Devils, Marcus was so strung out that he ran the ball thirty yards in the wrong direction, then turned around and still made first down. But this could all be chalked up to the Marcus legend. I don’t know; I didn’t really go to his games.

Sometimes he’d sell the pills at parties. Other times I’d see him fidgeting with them in class and then popping them like Pez candies. The team kept it a secret from Coach Colby—why would they rat out their star player, especially when they occasionally liked to get high too? Todd claimed that Marcus had been popping too many pills—that he couldn’t get through the day without them—and that he’d OD’d, and his body was lying stiff in the morgue.

I received a formal invitation to the Fishers. I expected a sort of vigil or a search for answers, I wasn’t sure, but when I arrived, it was more of a support group meeting, a strange display of grief. There were people there I’d never seen before. That Marcus had never mentioned or maybe had never even met himself. His mother had done her hair perfectly, and Dr. Fisher kept rubbing his wrists. I went over to them. They both squeezed me tightly, his mother crying these perfect little pearls.

What happened next was unexpected. Dr. Fisher grabbed me by the arm and led me to the stairs. I had never been to the top floor of their home. He didn’t say anything. Maybe if he had tried, he would’ve burst. He moved behind me like a sort of familiar dance, slowly leading me upstairs. He made sure to stop at every two steps, at every picture. It was a gallery. Beautiful pictures of the Fishers, of Marcus mostly, but also of a family dog, of the fall road trips and destination weddings. There must’ve been at least fifty pictures there, all staring at us, filling the upstairs. He stopped us at each one. Pointing at the frames but saying nothing. He reached the last step and just slumped down. We sat there for a long moment, quietly.

From where I was sitting, I could see Todd standing alone in the kitchen, in his blacked-out Oakleys, like stone. How are jock boys supposed to mourn?

I thought I had these people figured out.

My stomach still turns at the thought of this, how clean and quick it was. How medical. And how easily Marcus had convinced me that what we did was right.

***

I met Marcus in eleventh-grade biology. We got paired up for frog dissection and were both pretty shit at it. Other groups had one long intact intestine—we couldn’t even make out any part of ours. Made us look like poster kids for psychopathic behavior. After class, he asked for my MSN name. I blushed. My fresh-off-the-boat parents refused to buy a computer, so I told him he’d have to call my house. “Cool, I’m down,” he said, smiling, backing up slowly.

I let Marcus drive my family’s Camry all over town while my parents figured I was studying. He brought me around his crew, people like Todd. And he told me to stay away from people like Jackie. He introduced me to his parents too and nudged me to escape his mother’s twenty questions. We got good at making excuses.

The most popular spot in town was the quarry. The boys would bring their girls there to swim and hook up. It was like their version of the bleachers from the American television, set in the eighties. They took them there after the movies and ice cream dates. I’d never been asked to go before. Even though I wasn’t from here, I knew what jock boys wanted with pretty girls. I wasn’t a pretty girl, not in the jock boy sense. I did want him though, my skin turned to fire around him. I learned to act cool, like other girls.

As the days got hotter and stickier, we waded them out in the quarry. Marcus moved with ease through the water. I’d lose sight of him until he’d pop right back up behind me. He had these muscular, dangling arms, on a long torso. He glistened in the afternoon sun. While I lay out to dry, I’d watch him take these three long steps and spring into a backflip off the quarry cliff. As he came up for air, I’d yell out his score. It was cheesy and perfect.

Some nights we’d sneak back to the quarry, and he’d take some of his pills. Stargazing and melting into a blanket, he’d roll over to face me, the weight of his arm crushing me a little, his chocolate Axe body spray and cinnamon chewing gum mixed with the cool breeze. My head sunk into his flannel chest. He confessed how much he wanted to leave this place. How it placed people into these tidy little boxes. “People like my mom and my dad, who don’t even realize how trapped they are.”

I knew this feeling. I thought about telling him how my family saved for fifteen years to leave their village and settle here. That when we did leave, I couldn’t take any of my toys or books or Nani. That when I’m not at the quarry or in the car with him, I’m trying to reach her back home and Prishna and the others we left behind. When I do get through, the conversations are shorter and shorter. Distance didn’t make the heart grow fonder; it was a permission slip to forget.

His pill popping did get worse. Todd got that part right. One morning Marcus showed up at my door trying to smoke a cigarette backward, high and mumbling about wanting to go somewhere. Wanting to show me something different, something his. Following his slurred directions, I drove us past the school to a trail I’d never seen. We walked for about fifteen minutes until the path opened up. A rusted-out red and white trailer stood, almost misplaced in the clearing. I felt an uncertainty as his pace quickened. He pretty much dragged me to the front of it, his grip hurting me. He got closer and flipped the crooked latch—the door creaked like it hadn’t been visited in some time.

He led me in and then watched as my eyes scanned the old musty room filled with stuff that looked like it came from all over the world. There were hundreds of vistas and cut-outs, pictures printed from the internet pasted all over the wall. On a desk there were even letters, handwritten, meaning there were people on the other side of them. Another wall had a giant map of the world on it. A knife pushed deep into our town. I thought of how I used to ruin all my mother’s magazines by cutting out all the places I wanted to go and then sticking them into photo albums. As I got a little older, those places seemed further away. Shuffling closer to the postcards, I saw something familiar. “My family is from just outside of here,” I said, pressing on the one that read Agra with a picture of the Taj Mahal.

“You know that he built that for his favorite wife after she died… I hope to see it someday. It’s such a dope story.” I knew the story of the Taj, every kid in my village did, but I didn’t know this was how jock boys dreamed.

On the way to the quarry that evening, Marcus pulled over and cut the engine. He looked at me, his face wet. “You know my mom still thinks I’m gonna take over my dad’s practice. They think they got it all figured out for me… If I can’t get out of this place, it’s going to bury me.” I reached over and placed my hand on his. His knuckles were clenched shut, and his face was an offish white.

***

The police released new information regarding Marcus’s accident. They had found Dr. Fisher’s Mercedes after one of the twelfth graders swam to the bottom of the quarry in search of his full bottle of vodka. Marcus’s parents requested that the police drag the quarry for his body. I knew that they wouldn’t find him. I helped him run the car off the quarry cliff.

We had learned from this ridiculous made-for-TV movie that if you leave your car in drive, it can gather just enough speed to climb a hill. We were convinced that we had a master plan—you should’ve seen how slowly the car inched towards that edge. “I always hated that thing,” he said as we watched his father’s Mercedes sink below the surface.

As the sun lowered, we drove three hours to the Greyhound station in Marlow County. From there, he would take a bus to the train station in Montreal. And from there, he would try for the border.

***

What we hadn’t thought of was how the town would react after the accident. They spoke about Marcus and his presumed death as if they had been introduced to sin or the very concept of dying. No one had died tragically in a long time. No one like Marcus.

Like every year, we were all going up to Todd’s cottage party. This year was bittersweet because the team won the provincial title without Marcus. The whole school was invited, nerds, jocks, preps, goths; it was kind of weird if you weren’t there. Rumour had it that by the end of the night, Todd was stumbling, slurring his words. He had duct-taped two forty-ounce bottles of cheap malt liquor to each of his hands and then just wandered around hammered with this look in his eyes, like a wolf missing the alpha of his pack.

Days later, we got a knock on our front door. I figured our ruse was up and that the police were here to lock me up for aiding and abetting a self-kidnaping. There was another rumor going around that Marcus was still alive. Standing at the top of the stairs, I waited for my father to shift out of the way to see who it was.

“Ananya, there is a Dr. Fisher here to see you.” My father was confused by the sight of this white man in a nice suit at his door. “He says he wants you… to show him something.” His right hand was tightly gripping what looked like a letter, but it was hard to tell from where I was standing. Both men looked up at me, searching for answers.

What was I supposed to tell my father? That I must leave with this older white man to crack open his world. To lead him into a forest, to a place where his son kept secrets from him, plotting his absence. Was I supposed to tell my father that the boy his daughter loved, a boy he never met, carved out an American-sized part of her when he left?

This was loving Marcus. It was my worlds colliding. It was leaving India and that summer at the quarry. It was a red and white trailer, an adorned staircase, and our parents’ confusion. It was the drive to Marlow County. It was wondering if Marcus ever loved me in the same way when he said goodbye so casually.

I pictured how he lit cigarettes when he took calls, his Motorola flip phone snug between his shoulder and ear. I smiled, thinking about how far he probably was from here and whether he’d ever come back, for me or for any of us. I thought about telling him about the Jackies and the Todds and the teachers and all the rumors. I’d tell him about how his mother and father each gripped a perfect school picture of their handsome boy on the day that I was invited over. I’d tell him about all the things you leave behind when you’re planning to be anywhere but here.

Sacha Bissonnette is an Afro-Trinidadian, French Canadian short story writer from Ottawa, Canada. He is a reader for the Wigleaf Top 50 series. His fiction or poetry has appeared in Wigleaf, Litro UK, SmokeLong Quarterly, The Maine Review, The Emerson Review, and Cease, Cows, among other places. He is currently working on a short fiction anthology with the help of a National Canada Council for the Arts Grant as well as an Ontario Grant. He was recently nominated for Best Small Fictions. He loves film and comfort food and tweets @sjohnb9