Jody J. Sperling lives in Spokane, Washington, with his wife and two sons. He is an MFA candidate in fiction writing at Eastern Washington University. His work has been featured in Word Riot, SPECS, Garbanzo, and elsewhere.
Bogey stood alone, agitated under an unwavering orange of sodium vapor lighting. Though his Uncle Frank’s 1967 Stingray hadn’t left the curb in four months, it seemed always in motion. The steely red body wore a sword point of black emblazoned on the center of its hood, tip always aimed down the beckoning road. Its windshield, mapped in veins of frost, diamond glistening beneath the streetlight, both obscured and highlighted the red leather interior: a vision that stirred the same sensation in Bogey as glimpsing Janet Preston, his next-door neighbor, standing behind her bedroom window disrobing for the shower.
He drove his finger along the raised edge of the front fender as he moved toward the chrome bumper. One day he would convince Uncle Frank to give him a ride. Or he would find the keys and beg forgiveness later. He needed to walk.
Bogey thought he had been walking aimlessly until he found himself standing outside the discount store. Nothing was aimless. Adie stood behind the checkout. She had caught him stealing a bottle of lotion some months ago. His embarrassment owned that moment, and he knew she had felt the gripping fingers of its force enclosing her too because sixth grade boys use lotion for one reason. Did he need to keep stealing? In his closet, a stockpile of bottles lined the baseboards: extra moisturizing, hydrating, with cocoa butter, therapeutic, refreshing, scented, all natural.
The thrill of theft had become a requirement.
Adie met his eyes. Why could he not be more like his classmates, the boys who could talk to girls? Not like that usually bothered him. He wanted to talk to girls as much as he wanted to put his hand in a growling garbage disposal. Except, Adie was different. She was older, probably sixteen, maybe seventeen. She had boobs—nice boobs—not big boobs, but noticeable, boobs that would bounce if she went jogging, jogging on the beach in a swimsuit, in a swimsuit whose straps would start slowly to slip down her shoulder revealing her private tan-line-bordered path to paradise.
Was it his imagination, or did she glance at his crotch? Things were happening down there. He plunged his hands in his pants pockets and, tucking his chin toward the floor, strode to the back of the store.
Adie would not alert security to say she had seen the kid who tried to steal the bottle of lotion last time. She would keep this to herself. Bogey understood even on the day she caught him that she did not want to embarrass him. Her eyes held the sympathetic shape of a teardrop when she called him out. I saw you put that...that...beneath your jacket.
If he had admitted it, she might have taken the bottle from him and let him leave, but he said, I don’t know what you’re talking about, and kept for the exit. So she called over the intercom, and the security guard came running and overtook Bogey as Bogey stepped outside. I called the police, son, the security guard said, shading his eyes from the beaming sun with one hand canopied over his forehead.
Bogey spun around, pivoting on his heels, grinding gravel beneath his soles.
The guard stepped back and assumed a defensive position.
No! Please, Bogey said. Take it back, take it. I made a mistake. I wasn’t thinking.
The security guard unclipped handcuffs from his utility belt. The cuffs dangled from his hand. He refastened them to his belt. Fine, he said. He reached for the bottle of lotion Bogey had produced from its concealment. Hand it over, the security guard said. And listen to me, he said, don’t come back here. If I catch you in this store again I will cuff you, and I will turn you over to the cops.
Bogey wound through the aisles wondering what Adie was thinking about. Were her thoughts like his thoughts?
He stopped in the toy aisle. There hung three rows of toy cars, plastic, vacuum-sealed, dangling from pegs. He thumbed a model Corvette. The package read, Classic ‘58. He took it from its peg and ran his index finger over the logo that had been made to look like orange-hot flames. He looked right. He looked left. He pulled the plastic wrap from the cardboard backing. The model clattered on the tile floor. Bogey dropped the wrapping where he stood, stooped and swept the car into his palm. He sunk it in his pocket and started for the front.
It felt perfect, like fate. His mother talked endlessly of fate anymore. Maybe, when Bogey got home, if his mother was still awake, he would tell her, not about taking the car, but about how he finally understood what she meant when she talked about fate. Fate feels warm and roughly liquid, like a sound pulse or a bird chirp in the stomach.
He detoured into the pharmacy aisle and grabbed a bottle of medicated lotion with lanolin. Acting in the moment. That’s what he was doing. Uncle Frank said you weren’t really living unless you were in the moment. Only last week he had said, and privately, so that Bogey wouldn’t repeat it even though it felt like betrayal not to, that that was the problem with Bogey’s mother, her head was always in the past, or the future, and never in the moment and so she wasn’t even really living.
Adie’s hair feathered over her face as she scanned toilet paper and Kleenex for an old man. Bogey’s skin tingled. He lingered near the checkout, holding the bottle of lotion and scanning tabloid covers, waiting until he was the only other person in the store. He hoped Adie’s pulse beat as fast as his. He wanted her to feel hopeless, wanted her to know he had come for her, wanted her not to know he meant mischief, know he was guilty of something by the smirk on his face. He risked glances at her every few moments, hoped for a shocked expression, maybe even fear—wide eyes, gaping mouth, trembling lower lip. Instead, when he made his move for the checkout, her face communicated sympathy. “I’m glad you decided to pay this time,” she said.
He set the bottle of lotion on the counter. “Oh. Money,” Bogey said, and patted at his pockets. He felt particularly pleased with himself for patting his pocket right where the toy car rested. “I can’t believe it. I totally forgot my wallet.”
He wanted to give her a good chance to call security. If she picked up the phone, he was going to snatch it from her and say something disgusting. Something he had heard his Uncle Frank say, say something like, I can smell your tuna fish cunt all the way over here. Or, How about you kiss my big fat dick with both pairs of lips? When Uncle Frank said the latter line, Bogey’s mother turned so red she looked purple, and even though she hadn’t replied, Bogey knew she wanted to commit murder.
Would those words have the same effect on Adie they had had on his mother? While they fell on Adie, he’d leave the lotion and walk out of the store, and she’d think what an idiot he was to go to the trouble and then forget the objective until she realized it had all been more personal than a bottle of lotion. He imagined her tossing sleeplessly in her bed that night. He could come back to see her again and again.
She picked up the lotion, ran her fingers over the words as she read the label. “I have eczema,” she said. “I was super embarrassed about it, too, when I was your age.”
“I’m thirteen.” Next week, he thought.
She said, “You don’t need to be embarrassed,” and shrugged. “It’s not like you can help it, and my dad says it makes things way worse if you stress.” She smiled so that Bogey flushed, because the smile was offered kindly, generously. Where could he find such qualities? Not at home. A moment followed where they both said nothing, then Adie lifted the bottle and handed it to Bogey. “I guess maybe you thought you were going to try and steal this. I don’t know what made you change your mind, but it’s really cool you did.”
He grabbed it, but could not release his eyes from her.
“Listen, it’s way worse what I thought you were doing with that lotion. You have nothing to be embarrassed about.”
He thought maybe he loved her. “Why don’t you kiss my big fat dick with both pairs of lips?” he said. He ran away dropping the bottle as he went.
A warm snow fell in large flakes. The walkways shushed beneath Bogey’s feet as he ran. When he was thick in a neighborhood far from the discount store, far from Adie, he stopped, pulling the toy car from his pocket. It clattered and ricocheted through a bush, where he threw it. Then it was quiet.
The distance between everything, from his feet to the sidewalk, from the store to the bush where the stolen car dropped, from one tree to the next, one snowflake to the next, all tremendous. Fate had eluded him or guided him. He had slipped through or into or away from something. It was all unclear.
He slopped and scupped through slush for the remainder of his walk so that his shoes were drenched and his clothes soggy. Until there, beneath the false light of a street lamp, he stood looming over Frank’s Stingray. Blanketed now in snow, it seemed stationary. Bogey wiped a swath of the windshield clean and looked into the reflected image of his face, nothing more than bleak blackness. He pulled a river rock, the dumb mirror of his head, from the garden bed in his lawn and crashed it down through the glass. Everything beautiful, he knew, should shatter.