T H E M O R P H I S T
by Silva Noir
Chapter 5 : gifts
The clouds were parting and the sun was shining its face once more. Its yellowed light softly bounced off the many colored hoods of many rows of automobiles outside the local shopping center.
“I hate the rain,” Sue proclaimed. She was the only girl that really paid attention to him, yet the thought of touching her repelled him entirely. I’m not looking for love there, not with her.. Despite her friendly guise something underneath the layers of gregarious masks there was something deep inside her that made her ugly on the inside and out. He couldn’t put his finger on what just yet, nor did he feel he wanted to. She had her secrets, as did he. He would keep it at that for now.
“I like the rain,” he sighed for no reason in particular as they walked along the skirts of the plaza. He felt self-conscious as other teenagers glanced at the mismatched pair they made and adults wordlessly said ‘why aren’t you in school where you belong’ with their fleeting looks. Some seemed to do more than that, to drill a hole with their eyes through his very skin and expose him for the deformity he was. “Do you think there’s something wrong with me? Is it because I don’t have a father?”
She snorted, “No way! Lots of people have messed up families, especially no dads. Sure, it has an effect on you, but it doesn’t make you bad.”
“But do you think my anger comes from it?” He continued to question knowing it was otherwise. Then again, he couldn’t exactly shove his hand in front of her face, demonstrate the liquid oozing out from beneath well-kept nails and say, Is THIS normal? So, he settled for the other question in life that plagued him.
“Some might. Please, don’t worry Davey. It’s a nice day. C’mon, enjoy the lack of classes, be free out in the wide open… mall parking lot,” she twirled around in a circle with her head tipped to the sky.
As he was entertained with her dizzying dance he wondered aloud, “Sue, why don’t you believe in love?”
“Love?” she stopped spinning, “No such thing. Just our way for rationalizing our need for sex.”
“For what?” he squeaked hoarsely in surprise.
“You mean you don’t feel… a guy at your age… at least tell me you’ve heard of the word before” she stared at him slacked-jawed.
“You know I don’t feel much of anything” he shoved his hands in his coat pockets.
“I don’t believe it. How on earth do you stay so naïve?”
He shrugged. “Just never cared anything about it before. I still don’t. But I’d like to be loved and to love someone someday. It would be nice to have someone who wasn’t afraid of me.” He added quietly, “Who I’m not afraid of either. I’d like a beautiful girl to watch the sunsets with, go out nice places, and take long walks. She won’t have to do anything except be there to listen care and love me always. I’ll never leave her once I find her. It will be perfect.”
Sue put a cuff to her heart and just about keeled over from shock. “Amazing, freaking amazing. You’re a regular hopeless romantic there Davey.”
“Hopeless, yeah, that’s about it.” He lowered his gaze to his leather shoes. What girl would ever want a freak like me? he thought bitterly. “But do you think I’m… not right? Not normal?” Sue was reliable for very little, but the one thing he could always count on her for was to give her opinion truthfully, no matter how uncouth and revolting it may be.
“Nah, you wouldn’t be Davey otherwise. Its kind of cool to know you”
“Thank you… for talking to me when no one else would”
“How many times do I have to say no problem?” She pushed open the heavy black-framed glass door under a big awning to enter through a brand name drugstore. She skipped along, literally, making him aware that she was most probably high on something other than life. It wouldn’t be the first time he had witnessed it. One of the candies she had popped into her mouth on their buss ride was likely not candy. She pranced her way to the gift isle and jumped for something that caught her eyes on the top shelf. After a few good hops she had it down. It was the biggest teddy bear she could find, fuzzy and white with cutesy bead-black eyes and a pastel silky ribbon bow tie.
She lugged it to the cashier’s desk at the front, paying for it out of a ragged wallet with her own money, of which she didn’t have much. She worked in a burger joint just to have enough money to scrape by instead of focusing any of her efforts on academics. Either she felt not intelligent enough to put serious thought into it, or figured there was no way she was going to be able to afford college so she didn’t bother.
Once inside the main mall she discarded the bag into the nearest trash bin and pushed the bear into his arms.
A full smile spread across his face, “You’re the best, Sue.” He pressed the stuffed creature close to him. “This is one of the best things anyone has ever done for me. …I don’t even know when my real birthday is”
“You told me about that. I think that’s kind of weird of your mom, to not let you know just ‘cause you might find out things. To have a party for you different days each year is going overboard. Maybe she’s worried if you know your birthday you can find your birth certificate and track down your dad? I wonder if he’s a serial killer, in prison or something. That would be freaky”
He hugged the teddy bear even tighter, “I hope he’s not” the thought actually scared him. He didn’t want to consider for a minute that someone rotten like that had spent time around Ruth and caused her paranoia.
They walked together through the mid afternoon crowds. “Hey, I’ve got a major case of the munchies, lets catch some grub,” Sue pointed to the food court heading straight for the pizza counter. “Davey,” she said over her shoulder “grab a table, eh?”. He watched her wander off with a slice in a greasy paper plate after being confronted by a group of boys who looked as if school was a deadly plague to be avoided at all costs. They bummed a few cigarettes from her and then let her join their little self-destructive circle, discarding poor David like yesterdays garbage.
He sat at his empty table alone, laid his head on the oversized stuffed animal and closed his eyes. Why did I think she would care about me? She doesn’t care about anyone, not even herself. I just wanted one damned person to find me worthwhile, is that so much to ask? Forget what I said about love, I just want a true friend. The emotions he was holding down bubbled up. Sometimes it felt like poison that he had to swallow until his body couldn’t take it anymore. In which case a deep depression and a show of anger would follow suit. The only way to feel better about being excluded from the world was to destroy some of it so that others wouldn’t be able to enjoy it. If I can’t be happy, then no one will be happy. Only that method worked less and less every time he applied it.
“You alright there?” he felt a hand on his back and recoiled from not being used to having anyone near him, let alone touch him. No one, other than Ruth, had ever come in any sort of contact. And she did so sparingly as possible. A younger black girl with braided hair wearing a blue sports team shirt sat down across from him at the small square wobbly table and looked him over with some concern. “Did your girlfriend break up before you could give it to her?” She pointed to the puffy bear he’d been misusing as a pillow.
“No,” he pushed his bothersome silky bangs back and straightened out. “I don’t have a girlfriend. It was a gift for my birthday from a friend. Just a friend, maybe not even that,” he glanced over his shoulder to the floor to ceiling windows by the glass elevators where Sue and new buddies were lighting up and discarding ashes in potted palms.
“It’s your birthday and you’re all alone? If you were going to skip school to celebrate you would think that some friends would go with you.”
“Yeah…” he said low “Except I don’t have any real friends in this town.”
“I’m sorry. If it makes you feel any better, I’ll be your friend. My name is Melanie,” She smiled sweetly and held out her hand, expecting him to shake it.
“I’m David,” He lifted his arm and reached towards her, fingers trembling. His mind called out clearly the day Ruth had accused him of contaminating her. Spreading deadly diseases was indisputably not a good way to make friends. He winced and grabbed for her hand and let her hold onto it, moving it slowly and briefly up and down before letting go. He opened one eye glad to see she hadn’t spontaneously combusted. She was giggling at him. Another girl stood next to her giggling as well. He hadn’t seen her walk up.
“I leave you alone for five minutes and already you’re flirting,” said the newcomer, a freckle faced girl with short-cropped strawberry blonde hair with bangs, dressed head to toe in pink and white.
“Am not, Kristen” Melanie rolled her eyes. “This is my idiot best friend”
“Thanks for the introduction, dork.”
Melanie stuck out her tongue. “Who are you calling a dork, dork?”
Kristen looked at David, pursed her lips and cooed, “She likes you. She wants to ~kiss~ you”
“Do not! He looked sad, so I was cheering him up!” Melanie gave a quick whack to her friends elbow.
Now it was David who was chuckling. He guessed they were fourteen years old or so. As a tease he asked, “and what are you two doing out of school?”
They looked at each other smiled and simultaneously shouted in shrill thrilled voices “Roadside Guys tickets!”
David was drawing a blank “What?”
Kristen proceeded to squeal in smooshed together sentences a mile a minute “Ohmygawd they’relikethehottestever! I’ve got pictures of all them inmylocker! But JoeisTHEcutest!” She took a breath and continued. David was unsure if she would run out of air and collapse at this rate. “Andthetickets, went on sale to day, in Apples Music, and we were the firstinline because we were here since early-early-early this morning when the mall opened and all the stores were locked up in those barthingsandstuff, and do you know what? We got THRID ROW!” She literally jumped up and down for joy like a hyper cheerleader who’s consumed far too much caffeine for her own good. Apparently third row was a very big deal at whatever sort of event this was.
“Sounds wonderful,” he smiled and nodded having no clue who in the world these Roadside Guys were or the hype surrounding them. As long as the girls were happy, that’s all that mattered. As long as the girl were happy… that thought seeded itself in his mind and blossomed into a full-grown philosophy. If he couldn’t rely on anyone else trying to make him feel good, why not try and spread some joy to others? “If you’re not doing anything else for the day I was wondering if I could tag along for your shopping trip?”
“The more the merrier” Melanie replied honestly.
“Only we didn’t bring any money other than for the tickets and lunch,” Kristen was quick to say.
“That’s alright, I’ll pay for whatever you want,” he offered. After all, he wouldn’t need it for himself, not anymore. “I have about,” he pulled the black wallet form his back pocket and fingering the off-white and green slips of paper, “about four hundred here, that should be enough for both of you to get something you really like.”
Their eyes widened in shock and delight “Anything we want?” Kristen stammered. “No strings attached, gifts, like for free? We don’t have to do anything for it or owe you anything, ever?”
“Sure. Why not?” He shrugged. A fool and his money soon part ways.
“Hey, if he wants to spend cash on us, I say we don’t question it.” Melanie echoed his mental quoting, laughed and pulled her friend to the direction of her favorite store, motioning to David to follow. “And don’t forget Mr. Bear!”
David was brought into by far the most annoyingly young-and-hip store in existence where all the clerks wore black ribbed sweaters with khakis and plastic smiles. The floors were so shiny you could catch snow blindness from them and the walls were painted brighter-than-white, adorned with posters of models laughing open-mouthed to show off their perfect teeth and having a grand old time in the great outdoors without a grass stain in sight. The two girls from the food court went form rack to rack, hooking pastel baby-tees, mini skirts, and other accessories into an every growing pile clutched into their arms with a giddy glee. He winced as a blonde anorexic singer crooned an about love and baby, whoever ‘baby’ was over the stores speakers. He stopped making a face when he realized he wasn’t the one to go about accusing teenaged blond anorexics for anything unless he felt like being a total hypocrite. But must she hit the high notes at such an earsplitting level?
However, seeing the parade of outfits on the girls in his very own private fashion show did bring a bit of happiness to his heart. They posed dramatically as they opened the honey colored slat doors with whatever ensemble they had come up with of late. He nodded with approval at the ones that looked best. He’d always had an eye for appearances. These girls deserve to look their very finest. He stuck his chin up with a snooty sort of pride as they had a few chosen superb selections for purchase. That pride dissolved as he shelled out the actual money to pay for it all to the greedy saleswoman.
They bounced from shop to shop, the amount of currency located in his wallet dwindling faster than inconsiderate humans could cut down the rainforest. He’d read something about it in one of his classes and found himself mildly upset over the wastefulness of some people. Not that he was being wasteful at the moment, of course not. Humans: two-legged things of which I am not one. I couldn’t possibly be one. Forget the fact that I vaguely look like one. Perhaps that’s what Ruth meant when she told me that I don’t have a father. I’m a test tube baby, that’s it; it certainly fits with her profession. Something went horribly wrong when they were creating me in a lab and this is what they got. David inwardly grumbled unaware of how close he actually was to the truth before a rhinestone tiara was placed on top of his head from behind.
“I crown you the queen of England!”
His self and world ponderings were cut short as a hand mirror was thrust in front of his nose by Kristen. “Shouldn’t that be king or prince?” He asked a bit afraid of the other things she was holding and the evil twinkle in her blue eyes.
“Not if we get enough makeup on you” She attacked him with shimmering magenta lipstick as Melanie held him back and draped a feather boa around his neck.
“Oh, you look so pretty, DARLING!” Melanie cracked up with laughter.
David stood embarrassed and blushing under the thick layer of blush that had been smeared on him against his will. He grabbed a neon green handkerchief from one of the spokes nearby and did his best to wipe it away. His anger didn’t last very long as he realized this was the first time anyone had ever played with him. It didn’t matter it was about ten years too late in life to be acting this way, he wanted to be a kid again, and these two allowed him to be.
Several hours and eight bagfuls of purchases later they exited and waited for the bus. It was already sundown so he offered to walk them home for their own safety. In return, Kristen invited him in for dinner. He hadn’t had a real meal to eat in weeks now. He only nibbled on things here and there to keep the gnawing hunger down. That was mostly where his money came from. Ruth had given it to him to buy lunch with or order takeout for supper. He never did, pocketing the change instead.
He sat at the table in the cozy country kitchen, Melanie still with them stating she was going to “sleep over”. Kristen’s parents were out, this was their bowling night, she had told them. She was voluntarily fixing her eager guests spaghetti, one of the few things she said she knew how to cook. David was exhausted and not simply from the romp they’d taken through the mall. …Tired… so tired… eyes heavy… he struggled to stay awake. He couldn’t manage to sit up straight. Melanie and Kristen were too busy prattling on about guys they liked and the things they had bought that day and how envious everyone would be to notice. A few dizzy moments later…
THUMP! CRASH! His body was slumped on the hard floor, chair clanging against the tiles.
“Oh my God! David! Are you okay? Wake up… what’s wrong? Are you feeling well? Oh no!” Kristen shouted dropping her wooden stirring spoon.
He pried open his eyes for a brief time to see the others standing over him. “Ffhehhh,” he breathed, and then let it all shut down.
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