Danny was always looking hard at everything, but at the moment he was looking especially hard at Carly the Carp, who had the knife in hand and at-the-ready for oblivious violence. That’s all it took to kick the music off in his head. Bongos carried the wobbly melody along, thudding and thumping deep in his veins.
Bump ba-ba-bump ba-ba-bump.
“Don’t want this shit today, Carp.”
What Danny wanted was a different species of moment, one that would leave him believing in something, to yank him up and shake him until he saw that living made a small bit of sense. At thirteen, he had his situation caught way down cold. He was just another blown-apart kid, blasted so wide open that a breeze or a soft touch could have swung things to wholeness or obliteration. Soul-sick from the moments life had dealt him, he’d learned, for damn sure, life didn’t serve up saving stuff. So, he sniffed ground, on the hunt, and screw shame. Danny was due his moment.
He was just another blown-apart kid, blasted so wide open that a breeze or a soft touch could have swung things to wholeness or obliteration.
Far as he could tell, the Carp was deaf to his theme music. The boy had dumb danger weighing on his mind, and that took all the tending he could muster. He hiked his britches for the umpteenth time. The kid had no ass to speak of. Mosquito bites would have given his pants more purchase, so he was forever parading at half-mast.
Carp ditched his backpack onto a running sprinkler and found expression for his mood with a whip of his arm, winging that Bowie knife at the sky with everything he had.
They lived in haunted houses, Danny and the Carp. Danny’s was pink, a damn pink house, no lie. The Carp lived three doors down in a house with a swaybacked porch, propped up on cinder blocks and railroad crossties. The houses in their neighborhood had an element of funky, with yards jungled-over in weed grass, mined with partially buried chunks of mystery concrete and laundry poles, real lawnmower killers. The other kids at Yorktown Junior High called it the Suburban Projects. The angles were off-kilter, wrong. Yes, and their houses were haunted, only it was the living families themselves who ghosted things up.
The blade caught sun in crazy glinting, wickedly beautiful, like a sparkly metallic wasp.
The fact is, Danny was odd, even for his neighborhood. He hauled Russian novels around in his back pocket. That didn’t make it, not in the Suburban Projects, but he shelved Dostoyevsky when he showed off bursts of panther grace on the football field. It compensated some. Now, poor Carp, he had a different set of miseries to deal with, and it wasn’t that he looked like a garbage fish. His was more mole than fish, with a chinless melt of throat to jowl and pointy snout thrust. To designate rightly, it would have to be a flexible critter as Carp was creepily double-jointed, everywhere, including his hinge on reality. Because of that particular relaxed hinge, he sometimes needed a dressing-down for his own good. Case in point, the moment at hand.
Danny took in the shiny airshow for longer than healthy good sense warranted, then his brain moseyed onto the scene and did a doubletake. “Holy shitzoli!” They had, of course, lost it in the sun and, without a doubt, it was fluttering out of juice right above their fool heads. Pop would say they were dumb as dirt, the both of them. Dumb as a bag of hammers.
Danny dove and hugged the sod. The Carp stood his ground under twirling terror, calmly visoring his eyes while on the lookout for harebrained death. “Dive, you fool!” The whistle-whir of the blade gave tardy warning when the business-end of the knife stung Missouri terra firma instead of boy-flesh with what should have been a gratifying THWIP, not three feet away from Carp. Bless his thick skull.
“Whoa,” sayeth the Carp.
“Jesus H. Christ on a Popsicle stick.”
Carp waved it off with casual condescension. “Had it all the way.”
Danny’s skivvies were plastered to his trembling butt with what he hoped was just panic sweat.
“You must have been high to thieve that knife.”
“Butch stole it hizzdamself.”
“And when he buys a clue, whose ass is short mown grass? Mine. Isn’t my Pop making me fight your bro daily enough?” Danny said.
“Sorry. But why would he come after you?”
“You left my knife in its place, genius.”
Here, Danny’s drift started, his dipping out. He counted breaths.
Carp tripped as he went to pull at the knife with both hands, and that woke Danny before he dipped too deep. “Baby’ll come in handy in the wild.”
“Not if you brain us with it first.” Danny was readying to dress him down. He bumped Carp’s efforts aside and made a show of drawing it out one-handed, then took the boy’s leather knife holster. “’Til you grow a brain.” The rough unbelting sent Carp spinning under an arc of sprinkler water. Danny winced on a stab of shame he couldn’t source, then sheathed the Bowie in a scrape of steel on cowhide.
“For cripes’ sake, Danny. No blood, no foul.”
“Oh, you want blood? How’s about I knock your nuts so high you get a nosebleed.” He faked a kick that had Carp almost doing the job himself in his hurry to protect the pecans. Again, that poke of shame under his ribs. “Better guard your Show Me State.”
Carp giggled despite the threat to future progeny and the defrocking of his knighthood. He kicked dirt, sending a laceless shoe flying. Danny booted it back with Keds High Tops, luxuriously knotted with yarn. “I’m a wild man too, Carp. Crazy sumbitches together. But there’s a smart way to be a jackass.” The Carp stomped over to pull his sopping backpack off the sprinkler. “You’ll get it back when I see lights on upstairs.” Danny offered his hand for the healing slap of detente. Carp gutted past indignity, and they smacked out a well-worn, syncopated code of friendship. But Danny winced again, knowing well the symptom, but clueless on the disease.
* * *
The Carp’s leg was hung up on a fence. He hopped on his free leg, butt-crack grinning for the wide world to see. Danny tried to wrench him free from the snaggle-toothed fencing, but it took a sawing at his pants cuff with that Bowie to extricate his buddy, who then tumbled ass-over-appetite. They both fell, laughing. Carp flipped the shutters up on his eyes, big as comic book thought balloons. It didn’t take Chinese algebra to figure an idea had ambushed him. “Got a secret.”
“Everyone’s got secrets.”
“Tough enough, MoFo?”
Danny sighed at Carp’s front-end delivery of a password parry then labored through his part in their secret verbal handshake. “MoFo tough enough.” Carp used their skinned-knee code as a lasso, the magnificent bastard. Not for a second did Danny think his precious moment was hiding out in a Carp secret. It was hitting grownup-dark, when folks holler to get indoors for pretended homework, bath time and bad TV, then brush ’em up and don’t let the bedbugs bite. But it wasn’t kid-dark. Danny flared his nostrils at someone’s microwave popcorn while lights popped on up the street. That shirtless Romeo, Bobby Goodmunson, sputtered by in his Taurus, farting blue oil smoke, and that always gave them a gut bust. No way it was even close to kid-dark. “Spit it out, Carp.”
“Have to take you, or you’ll say it’s stupid.”
“So, it’s a stupid secret?”
Danny nearly jumped free of his skin at a bellowing that rolled across those yards.
“Danny! Home now! Haul it, Candy Ass!”
Danny leaned toward the bullying call. Then came the chaser, an impossibly loud whistle that needled his eardrums. He twitched. Carp said, “Dayum! Your eyes gone cattywampus.” Things were fuzzing. He was dipping out for real. Headed out to sea. Danny had taken to dipping out that year, and each time he did it was harder to reel him back. His face sagged, and a line of drool stretched to the grass like clear taffy. “You’re scaring the chocolate out of me, man.” Carp clapped his hands, hopped and waved, but Danny was still stuck in the mud of another world. “What’s it you always say? Tomatoes! We’ll go to Mexico and grow tomatoes.” Danny shivered awake. Carp grinned nervous bravado. Danny returned a crooked smile as proof he was back from vacation.
“Okay then, Carpophore.”
Carp laughed, too hard. “Carp of Fur. Made that shit up.”
“I looked it up. Something to do with fungus.”
“Fungus my butt.”
Another blast cut them off. “Danny! Get your tail home or I’ll wax it for you! I’m shittin’ you in the negative, boy!”
Carp asked, “How many?”
Danny did practiced calculation. “Ten. Twelve if it’s PBR. Not critical.”
But it was critical. Big time critical.
* * *
Louis Gallagher, Danny’s Pop, sucked down Pabst number twelve, by a count of the aluminum husks on the driveway. He was a pasha on the hood of his monkey crap-brown Mercury. Carp snuck Danny a low-five for his proven swami skills. Lou sat sentry, all six-foot-four of him, singing Roger Whitaker. He had his doll’s eye thing going, a fixed look that could creep anyone, let alone his flesh and blood. Here was the source, the epicenter of their pink house haunting. “I have no fear of death, it brings no sorrow. But how bitter will be this last farewell…”
Danny’s Master Sergeant surveyed the neighborhood in over-the-top, manly posturing. That sucked-in gut, and the elbow locked at a severe right angle for beer swig made Danny want to hide in the weeds. Too late. Lou snagged him in the corner of a bloodshot peeper and laughed. Danny was a just bit of slapstick spit out for his amusement. “Slow as a seven-year itch, boy.” Tipping them back always gave his Pop redneck envy. He’d slide into flawed Dixie drawls, made jarring by the fact the man was raised on Chicago’s North Side.
Danny glitched back to his last football game of the season, when he heard the twangs of meanness whooped from the sidelines, and how he spat his mouthpiece onto the field, ground it under his cleats, and wished his father planted six-foot-four-deep at the fifty-yard line.
When he lifted his hand, Danny watched the sweaty Rorschach left behind, a one-winged butterfly that gave up the ghost in slow fade.
Lou said, “Purt near time for beauty sleep, Candy Ass.” Much as Danny wanted to ignore it, he couldn’t hold off picturing his buns in sweet, sloppy melt. “Let’s you and me conspire, Sugar Britches.” He patted the hood. When he lifted his hand, Danny watched the sweaty Rorschach left behind, a one-winged butterfly that gave up the ghost in slow fade. It was easy to hate his hand at that moment, then he recalled it once held a paintbrush to slather a heart onto the back of a bookcase. Betty Jane, Mom’s name, painted within the sloppy Valentine, albeit in black paint.
Danny let the notion of black hearts go and climbed up onto the hood, trying to float so it wouldn’t buckle under him. His Pop looked to Carp and screwed up his face like he’d chomped into something revolting. “Playing grab-ass with your girlfriend?” Danny scooted away. “You and the Carp been holding hands?”
Carp smiled. “Hey, Lou?” Lou’s hand squeezed at that, crumpling the can until it spouted brew-foam. It was a scary thrill when the Carp pulled this pretended familiarity that did not exist. His unmindful ways commanded absolute awe. “Packing on the poundage. Better cut your old man off on the suds, Danny.” Lou settled on an ugly choice in smiles and moved as if he might chase Carp. Danny had to tap dance his father back on task, and fast.
Danny said, “Pop, what’s the deal with that nasty tattoo?” Lou jerked Danny to a bear hug gone bad, right up against a botched Popeye tat with a fireball of spinach bowled up his arm. That bicep bounced hard, sun-browned as a roasted coconut. It gave Danny’s neck one bitch of an Indian burn. Lou rolled his deadened eyes and sucked backwash from the pulverized can.
He said, “If we’re lucky, you’ll be a man before your mother.” Another favorite. Danny inched away as he launched into a round of shanty. “Ohhhhhhhh… I love to go swimmin’ with bow-legged women and swim between their legs…”
They turned at the slamming of a car door. It was Butch, Carp’s big brother, exiting his snot-green Nova. Lou shouted, “Heyyyyyyyyy, Jelly Belly!” Ice marbles rolled down Danny’s spine, marshaling liquid sting to his gut. Did he have to fight for the bazillionth time? Butch snapped his flinty head around, his face splotched scarlet. All seemed destined for violence, but he only swore and flipped a perfunctory bird, trudged to the saggy porch and into the Partin home. Danny went limp. His Pop let fly with a monster butt-rip that rumbled the hood under him. “Close call, eh boy? My favorite little ballerina.”
Danny would not find his moment there. It never failed to jostle his imagination that life could be such a Crud-O-Rama. He sometimes wondered if it might be better sleeping it away, without moments of any kind. He slid off the Merc and slouched to the door, with Carp trailing.
Pop’s eyes were even bloodier, glassier, with a crazy, mean wisdom. “Feel that, boy? That Candy Ass heart of yours?”
“No way.” But he was sure his Pop could see his chest mounding up with the pound-pound of yellow muscle. Lou about split his sides giggling, then belted out some “Waltzing Matilda.”
* * *
Betty Jane threaded yarn daisies on a plastic contraption. There were floppy, taped-together boxes filled with wreaths, candles, various and sundry colorful doodads and crafter supplies, swamping the kitchen table. Those were the tools she used to keep the family afloat, after her other two jobs, and making dinner. When the boys came in, she shot them dead silly with one of her patented smirks. Carp bowed to her for a head rub. “What’s with the mop, Carlton? You too, Huckleberry.” She poked Danny’s belly. “Might tie you rascals down and break out the clippers.” Carp snickered, hopelessly in love. Danny’s mom dealt out moments, but it was tangled up in the mess of family mythology. She tried hard, but she was caught in it too.
Danny snatched up daisies, looped them over his ears, and clowned up the latest verbal emasculation from his Pop. It got her to laughing, and when she did, she was young Elizabeth Taylor, A Place in the Sun Liz. She played it for all it was worth, and that was a lot.
A patch of Pop’s ranting, snarly and rank, shook the window casings and killed off her smile. Danny knew he should have kissed her, told her she’s the best. There was something in the way she shifted her weight to one hip, and the tension in her back, that silenced him. Whatever good was in him, he owed to her. Nothing cruddy came from Mom. There were tons of things he thought about saying, and magic could have spilled out, then they could run away from Pop and his red doll’s eyes, and the late sessions that awaited her after happy hour.
What he did say was, “Carp and me are sleeping in the basement tonight.”
“Okay, honey. Don’t stay up all night watching Chiller Theater. Love you. You too, Carpy.”
Danny grunted a passable good night then abandoned his Liz look-alike in the kitchen, behind the battlements of boxes and paints, alone with her sore, sticky fingers.
* * *
Danny clawed through the cold placenta of a nightmare. His legs pumped lightning and snapped him into a blind-dive near the Carp who startled awake on a stack of blankets. “What up, man?”
Danny worried that Carp was getting more than a good whiff of his fear. If he didn’t say something quick, he might end up rudderless again, hurtin’ for certain, so Danny said the first dumb thing that hopped off his tongue. “Tough enough… MoFo?”
Carp puffed out the only acceptable answer. “MoFo tough enough.” Danny’s knee barked raw on basement carpeting as thin and green as pool table felt. Danny dreamt bad things down there, like getting rolled up in hideous green carpeting, hauled away dripping blood, never to be heard from again. Carp continued a conversation already boogying along in his brain. “Thought you was gonna fight Butch again. My best friend and my bro. Weird.”
“Yeah. Real bitch’s bastard’s whore.”
Carp snorted, relishing the yummy unspooling of profanity. Danny peeled his Cap City All Stars T-shirt and used it to mop his forehead. Carp asked, “You hate your old man? I do. I mean, I hate mine.”
“Sometimes. Sometimes I don’t.” Danny raked under the couch for his sneaks, hurrying to cover his orange terry cloth socks. “Maybe people get hooked on being bad. Slimy stuff under a rock and can’t stop themselves reaching under to touch.”
Carp said, “Remember when you threw that dart at McQuitty’s wooden leg? Thunk!”
Carp about died in the rehashing. “Man, that was classic.”
“It was way wrong.”
“McQuitty’s a mean hag.”
“Can’t argue that. Still shouldn’t have done it.” Carp relived the act in pantomime. “Your brother sure enjoys whuppin my pitiful butt. I had the brains of a gnat I’d run away. Pussing out’s healthier.”
Carp picked at carpet fuzz, thinking into the meaty heart of something. “Maybe I know why you don’t.” Danny double knotted his yarn laces and felt the leading-edge tingle of large things. “You taking hits for me, Danny?”
Danny had never thought of that. Not once. “Yeah, I guess,” he lied. “And if I didn’t fight Butch I’d have to spar with John Wayne up there.” He might choke on his chickenshit lies, and his need for Carp to worship him. He polished the blade on a pillow case. “This is your show, Kemosabe. The big secret. Lead on.”
Carp pulled a black velour turtleneck and black yoga pants he’d stolen from his mom out of the backpack. “Nuh-uh,” said Danny. Carp then took out a cheap pentagram pendant. The effect of the ensemble was half-assed beatnik Satanist. “Don’t act like you’re not trying to copy that guy in the horror movie.” Carp tried to pass as confused. “What you look like’s a gay warlock.”
“Wrongo, Mary Lou. I wanna make it with a warlock.” Carp grinned, having explained it all.
“Pretty sure warlocks are the males of the witch species, Carp.”
“Well then I wanna make it with a witch.”
“Now you’re making sense.”
Danny said, “Ditch the dumbass devil star.” Carp removed it, like it was a rescinded war medal. Danny offered his palm. Carp did his duty and cracked skin. That accomplished, they started out.
* * *
Danny crouched in the woods next to Carp’s house, finally putting serious legwork into his hunt for a moment, risking a hiding. It was misting out, laying down a wet frosting on his arm-hairs. He flipped his tongue out for a taste, swallowed to let it percolate with the sweet pinch of peril in his belly.
It was misting out, laying down a wet frosting on his arm-hairs. He flipped his tongue out for a taste, swallowed to let it percolate with the sweet pinch of peril in his belly.
The Carp came galumphing up from behind, big sweat stains already blooming from his pits. They snuck up on thick clouds of lightning bugs, twinkling like the shed souls of Christmas trees. Carp snatched one out of the air, cupped it in his hands and turned away. He fussed over his capture. When he spun back, Danny saw he’d smashed the firefly and tried to paint stripes on his face. Carp asked, “Does it glow?”
Danny said, “You about done there?”
“In a way. In a way, not.”
A classic Carp koan. Danny shook his head. “Mind telling me where we’re going?”
“If I snuck out to see frogs fuck, I’ll deal you an atomic wedgie make your grandkids yelp.”
Something in the trees cut off Carp’s moaning at the threat of a wonder wedgie. Human sounds of struggle. Silence. Gurgling and choking. Then a gasping and an awful, mewling wheeze. It was quiet again, except for the air whistling through their nostrils. Past the lightning bugs, something moved. Gooseflesh knitted the skin on Danny’s arm as he stared into airborne sparks. One of the phosphorescent buggers wasn’t a firefly. It was a cigarette tip, bouncing on a human gait. A drag taken on the cigarette, ignited tobacco and illuminated the face just enough. Carp whispered, “The old man.”
Lloyd Partin passed, a runty pile of gristle gone to paunch, shuffling on bowed legs. His breathing was ragged. They heard the squealing of the back door on Carp’s house, followed by its shutting click. Carp tugged at Danny’s sleeve. “Heard Butch tell Davey Johnson that Dad was the one held up the 7-Eleven over on Tigard.”
“That your secret?”
“No, man. But do you think he hid the money? He’s always stomping around out here.”
Someone else moved out of that same black hole in the woods. Danny’s gizzards registered it before his brain buzzed in, knowing that big head only too well. Butch. Damned if the bully wasn’t sobbing. His neighborhood nemesis spun, snagged on thorn bushes, ripped his limbs shit, flying without radar. The boy was gone. Danny knew. Butch had dipped-out big time. Butch dropped to his knees and heaved. When there was nothing left to toss but lung, he spat, then jammed his fingers into his mouth to scratch at his tongue.
The Carp had made his way around a tree and was moving to his brother. “What he do?” Butch gagged in shock. “What did he do to you?” Butch scuttled, raising his beefy arms to hold off the question. The brothers’ eyes latched. Danny prayed a thought that ugliness might come tumbling down to let a scintilla of mercy sneak in. Whatever clammy, dark things he’d endured wouldn’t allow it. Butch’s face flashed. The scared, humiliated boy had cut and run. The feral Butch brayed a sound ten tortured animals might make, mashed together, as he drove a kick into Carp’s stomach.
Danny got to Carp, and that’s when he took a big clunk to the head, saw electric blue. The tree branch had glanced off a tough patch of skull, but now Butch had Danny pinned, his face rotted with self-preserving hate, and the insane thing was, even as he was about to whale away, an impossible part of Danny felt for him.
Hell, Danny felt for all of them. Butch took aim with that knotted club. Danny half wanted him to deliver sleep, but the blow didn’t come. He was suddenly free, rolling up to his knees to see Carp flailing at his big brother. Butch quick-reversed things and slammed Carp, then grabbed up the tree limb again. That’s when time and movement pulsed, skipping like a rock on lake ice, strobe lights flashed through gelatin, thick in the headwork but somehow still lightning fast.
When it slowed, Danny witnessed Butch’s Adam’s apple up against the knife edge, a line of crimson dotted across it. The Bowie rocked over the throbbing carotid. Danny needed to stop this fool before someone got killed, but that’s when it registered that the fool working the knife was himself. He wasn’t ever able to remember grabbing it. But there they were. Locked in. Tremors set the blade to sawing across Butch’s gullet.
Carp crawled over. Danny jerked when he made contact. The only way out was for him to relinquish his will to Carp. Those double-jointed fingers touching his wrist were enough to break the spell. He let him pull the blade away from Butch, who collapsed, a load of used-up boy. It didn’t look good for Danny walking on his own, so set were his muscles. Carp crutched Danny into the trees while impossible luminous firefly tears streaked down his cheeks.
* * *
Carp sat on the bridge, cradling his stomach. Danny huffed over the railing, looking up the railroad tracks along the creek, of a mind to train jump, or something equally desperate. Much as he tried he couldn’t spit out the ugliness of the night. “World could die and I don’t give shit one.” Danny’s heart hammered. “Don’t know what to say, Carl.”
“You said my name,” Carp said, and he gave Danny a face he’d never seen before, not on anyone. The mercy he’d hoped for earlier. How could he make it right for Carp?
“This is it,” said Carp
“The secret. We’re here.”
“Sweet & Sour Jesus, Carp… We don’t have time… I mean… We got to figure out…”
Carp slid his legs under the cross rail and hunkered down. While he looked around for clues, Danny raked at the sticky wad of hair on his wound. His nostrils homed on the warm surprise of grease on the breeze, tracing it to a little donut shop across the creek. There were two girls inside, wiping counters, readying for a close. One of them had red hair, the other was brunette. A man stepped from the back, said something, then exited to get into a car. He started it and gassed it up the hill road. The boys ducked the headlights, watched the beams stab into the woods, bouncing off the mirroring eyes of night beasts they had no idea were there.
The redhead grabbed a music box. The brunette removed a scrunchy. Her hair spilled out like root beer as she swayed into dance. Her coworker shouldered her washrag, lit a cigarette, and watched. The girl’s moves became tasty wild. No big deal, thought Danny. Sure as hell didn’t rate as a secret. So, why did he feel he might levitate? Danny’s eyes sharpened to something tucked deep into it.
“Know why I think it’s cool?” Carp said, on spooky cue.
Danny turned to him.
Carp said, “You can’t hear.”
“The music. Or them.”
The Carp was right. Not a note.
She dealt magic in a silent reel when most everything in life was soupy with noise.
But Danny’s secret tune was different this go around, not scary at all. Things were sparkly, jeweled and lit up. She dealt magic in a silent reel when most everything in life was soupy with noise. It couldn’t be so, but Danny’s boy-crisis world dissolved into a lucid, jolting hush, the misting night muffled all but one strain of song, his theme under smacked bongos, but it was clear now, and done right.
Her legs were lissome. Perfect summer-skin up against white, rolled-down socks, set off an ache in Danny. She bared her gams to the hips as she spun. She was a mermaid on land, with no hint of guile or dance club showiness, more a primal circling of fire. The redhead pantomimed whoops as her friend whirled amongst stale donuts. The way the dancer smiled about killed Danny. Her gyrations rhymed with things inside, making his existence a glimmery, boozy bliss. He imagined her in one of his Russian novels, cloistered away, only leaving her cell to dance into the world with him. That night he understood why everyone claimed that muscle, the one that sizzled in his chest, was linked to love. Danny fell, if not for her, then for imperfect life.
“Carl?” He wanted to make vows, stand guard for Carp, and that girl, keep them safe. He peered into her, and found something a lot like himself, only freer to feel. It pulled at him. He leaned over the rail as every flip of hip and turn of heel became intolerably dear. But then a beautiful sadness weighed him down onto the bridge, next to Carp, who was crying in that other world. Danny handed the knife and sheath to his best friend.
She danced on with eyes lidded, turned inward in roll and rhythm with the all.
Carp asked, “What’re we gonna do?”
“If we have to, we vamoose.”
She could fly on nerve alone, a mermaid-bird, too beautiful to exist.
“Mexican tomatoes?” Carp asked.
Danny could almost read her lips, whispering his secret name. “Mexican tomatoes.” Their laughter shook loose diamond tears. A chipmunk whirligigged up a tree, whipping up a thrum in his ears. The lights of the shop and the wet mizzle set a glow to magnolia leaves. Ice bumps bloomed up his arms.
“Was my secret enough?” Carp asked.
The endings didn’t have to be perfect. The wild hunger was the thing.
It shouldn’t have been, but it was. Danny rose on shaky pegs, feeling his whole young life had unrolled while he played at being human. Everything was hopscotch on Venus. The Carp wouldn’t need a dressing down, ever again. Danny was in on things, wiser. It was bigger. Bigger than Carp’s dad and his sickness. Bigger than Butch’s thumpings. Bigger than Pop’s doll eyes. He was looking back from the other side of oblivion where he spied on all the lives he could have lived. The endings didn’t have to be perfect. The wild hunger was the thing. Right then and there, he knew he and the Carp would make it through. Together.
He heard a splash. Carp hocus-pocused his empty hands above the creek. The Bowie was gone.
The mermaid looked up, but kept dancing.
“She’s looking at you, Danny.”