My best good friend Quiddit got the bike off a fifth grader, nice orange and silver Mongoose from the Wal-Mart down in Bowling Green, with pegs and a handlebar rotor for tricks and all that shit. Broke the kid’s nose and just took it. When the kid’s pap came over to Quiddit’s place, he got his own nose broke. I see the kid and feel bad when we pass him by on his own bike, Quiddit a-pumpin his skinny chicken legs and me on the back pegs, my palms rubbin against Quiddit’s shoulder zits. I never seen my friend wear a shirt.
Quiddit don’t pay the kid no mind, don’t turn his scarred up, shaved head in the least, probably don’t even see the boy. Quiddit only sees you when you got somethin he needs. But I think ‘bout that kid waitin at home, happy with his broken nose, just knowin his Pap is comin back with the bike. Kid hears the car pull up, runs to the door to find his daddy bleedin and cursin and blamin the boy for losin the bike in the first place. The kid probably got a beatin, my pap would have done me like that for he killed hisself. I feel shame for that boy and his pap, swells the closer we get, like that boy is radiatin some kind of poison, like that Chernobyl deal.
“Don’t fuckin hold so tight, you pussy!”
I loosen my grip and my hands is caked with Quiddit’s oil and infection. I pull the sleeves of my shirt over my palms and soak up the mess. Quiddit pedals harder and we roll past the high school. I guess I don’t mind so much, missin school like we do. Only but one class I care for. And Helen. The rest is just useless to me. Quiddit says it’s all useless and he might be right, but he has a habit of takin his own thinks and puttin them on everybody else like they’s Gospels.
I met Quiddit at school ‘bout a year back. I was gettin beat on again by Jonny Shackleford and out of the blue sky here comes Quiddit, cracks Jonny right upside the head, catches his ear just right and pops his eardrum. Jonny’d already had enough right there, but Quiddit ain’t never had enough. He laid into Jonny real good and when he was done and Jonny were cryin he turned to me.
“Take a run at this fucker.” I just stood there and he says, “Come on, you fuckin pussy. Give this bastard your boot!”
And I don’t know why, but when he said it, it was like when Daddy telt me to do somethin and my body just followed, like on its own. I lit into Jonny Shackleford and it was ‘bout the most pleasurable experience of my life, cept for whackin it. I was wearin my black steel toe Carolinas and I lit that boy up, all up and down his sides, stomped him good. Eight years of Jonny beatin on me and in one day I never had no more trouble from him. Me and Quiddit partnered up after that and even when I found out why was he helped me I couldn’t say I weren’t appreciative.
Quiddit dropped the bike behind some thick briar up on Cave Creek road. The road where we was at was closed on both sides by forty foot limestone bluffs left from when they cut the road through. It were a little frightful you look back where you been, but they’s lots of foot holds and rocks to stand on so’s you really ain’t in no fear of fallin unless you really fuck the goat. I was up top first and I held out my hand to Quiddit.
“Fuck off,” he said. And then he smiled at me like he was readin my mind, but instead he was writin it. He was thinkin I was thinkin I’d like to see him fall, because of my sister. And I swear to Jesus that ain’t what I was thinkin but after he planted it there I couldn’t exactly argue with the appeal of such a vision.
When we got up top the bluff, the land leveled out for a bit and we walked quiet, me followin, into the woods, holdin up our hands to block the whippin branches and keep the spider webs out our faces. I knew where we were headed since I heard what my sister and him was talkin ‘bout last night. Nancy, Nan we call her, that’s my kid sister. She’s thirteen and she’s Quiddit’s girl when he wants her to be. She’s real pretty and she used to have lots of boys hangin around before Quiddit showed up and runned em all off. I was in my room the night before, listenin to them fuck through the wall, not wantin to exactly, but the walls was thin and both of them are loud fuckers. When they was done Quiddit asked Nan if she got her flow yet and she told him no. She asked him if he had the money and Quiddit told her ‘bout a still he knew, that him and me was gonna start runnin shine. That was the first I heard of it.
“You gonna get hurt messin around with somebody’s still,” Nan said. Then Quiddit smacked her one and it boiled me up a bit, but I heard his blade pop and knew better than to say boo. I could practically see him with that blade like I was in the room with em. He always pulled it when anyone said he weren’t up to some kind of scuffle. He’d wave the blade in front of their eyes, darin them to say it again and you knowed that whoever was fool enough to challenge Quiddit, well they’d feel just like you did right then. That blade caught the light and shined it back on you like some preacher’s truth and you believed there was not a person alive who Quiddit couldn’t handle.
“I know you’s pissed at me,” Quiddit said.
“I ain’t,” I said.
“You a liar or you a pussy?”
“I ain’t neither.”
“Ha, you one or the other. That girl was too much for you.”
“What you talkin ‘bout?” I said.
“You still want her, you go ahead. I’m done with that shit. But don’t waste yer time bein pissed at me. She ain’t nothin to me and there ain’t really shit you can do ‘bout it.” Quiddit turned and gave me a smile, the one that usually softened me some and made everything all right. I returned it and just ‘bout puked when he turned back around. I never told no one how it was Helen I saw nights, in my lonely thinks, but I did tell Quiddit I was sweet on her. And that’s all he needed.
“Hit it and quit it?”
“Damn right,” Quiddit said.
I followed blind and we picked up a trail, an old access road for loggin or pumpin oil, pitted with all kinds of weed covered dips to wrench an ankle in.
“Where we goin?”
Quiddit hocked and spit. “Whiskey spot I know.”
“Mine,” he said, and he turned and looked at me. I thought ‘bout the knife. “You get a cut you do right.”
We left the road at a rusted oil well, dried up and stinkin with fumes. We crossed a flood plain, weavin our way through patches of young paw paws, feet sinkin in the soft moss and ferns that covered everything. Quiddit stopped when we reached the next hill, scanned the length of the rise and led us to a small split between a giant pair of sandstone boulders. I followed up the path and we rose slow through a series of switchbacks until the switches turned steeper and we climbed hard over rocks and rain exposed roots, higher and higher. I heard the water and looked through a break in the tree line, down at the Green River below. I’d shared a canoe on the river with Helen when we was on our biology class trip, mussel huntin and bug collectin. We camped that night and after everyone else turned in, me and Helen stayed out by the fire and we shared a bottle of schnapps she stole from her mama. She told me all ‘bout the things the boys liked to do to her and the things her daddy and brother did to her. She said she trusted me and I felt shame and pride at the same time, thinkin ‘bout what I wanted from her and what she thought I was. I chose the pride and tucked away my intentions, let them all crackle away in the flames.
Me and Quiddit reached the top of the hill and it wasn’t long fore we were on the still. It were a shack painted cammo green, set back in a clearing. I did like Quiddit and crouched at the opposite edge of the clearing and we listened for any folks might be close by. When he was satisfied, Quiddit moved past the tree line. I followed, kept my eyes and ears open while he poked around inside the shack. I knew what kind of people still ran whiskey; people who didn’t take kindly to folks pokin. Every wind-blown crack of a branch made me want to piss myself and run. I went into a funny daydream where someone did come, someone fierce, someone who knew how to handle trash like Quiddit, blade or no. I watched myself watchin from the edge the clearing while Quiddit wrastled with the bastard, pulled his knife to no good use and took punishment for every wrong thing he ever done. And I couldn’t stop the beast, not even in my mind, not even after Quiddit stopped beggin. I tasted his salty sweet tears and the joy wellin up inside me was equal and opposite to the crushin squeeze I felt when Quiddit stepped out of the shack, unharmed and carryin an apple crate full of clinkin glass mason jars.
“Don’t stand there like a pussy. Take these.” He handed me the crate and I struggled with it. “Fuckin queer,” he said. He came out right quick with a apple crate like mine and again we was hikin through the woods, back down the switchbacks, over roots and rocks without no free hand to steady ourselves.
“You drop any of this and I’ll take it out of yer ass I swear to Christ.”
I pulled the crate tight to my chest, looked over the edge of the trail and knew that if any of the whiskey went over the side it was better I go with it. I watched Quiddit’s greasy shoulders, tryin to forget my burnin arms. I took to countin my footsteps and tryin to keep them in time with the clinks of the jars.
We reached flood plain and the flat ground was such a relief that I felt like I could go on for miles carryin the jars, but I wasted no time settin my crate beside Quiddit’s and joinin him under a dyin oak. Quiddit slapped the trunk a couple times and we listened to the vibratin hum of the roostin bats, confused and ornery with the daytime wakin.
Quiddit lit a joint and passed it to me. I hit it and gave it back, watched the early golden sun lick at the break in the canopy above like flames eatin up the sky. Quiddit sat up and unscrewed a jar. He took a long drink and wasn’t shy ‘bout reactin to the liquor.
“Shit boy God damn!” He wiped his lips with his sweaty, briar scratched arm and handed the jar to me. I took a drink and choked on my own heavin guts.
“Ha! Little faggot,” Quiddit said. He took the jar again and drank, handed it back to me. I took a long nip and forced the poison to settle, choked it unconscious. Quiddit took the jar back, capped it and put it back in the crate.
The rest of the hike back to the limestone bluff I didn’t think much ‘bout my arms as the alcohol and weed was playin in my head. I was almost happy. I watched the back of Quiddit, tried to see through him. Helen with him, it spoiled her like fruit and now she was rotten, no matter what she was before. I felt the taint Quiddit carried, like the bite of the shine or the rank fart smell of the forgotten oil pump, and I wondered if it were on me too. But I saw it on Quiddit and I couldn’t look away from it. I began to appreciate where I was for the first time, saw myself walkin from a great distance, way up high, saw every leaf, every ant and wood roach I crushed or barely missed; the other me saw all that. All I saw with my eyes was Quiddit’s zit covered back and the sparse curly hairs twisted up and growin back into the infected skin. I thought of a word that hadn’t made a lot of sense until then, a word the biology teacher said: dichotomy.
We reached the bluff and Quiddit stood for a moment as if he hadn’t quite figured out the particulars of the situation beforehand.
“You go first,” I said. “I’ll drop the jars down to you one by one. Then the crates.”
Quiddit looked over the side, thought, looked at me and nodded. “I was ‘bout to say the same.” He set the crate at the edge and sat and rolled, lowerin himself onto the face of the bluff. He looked up at me. “You give me a bad toss, break a jar, I’m takin it out yer skin.”
I didn’t say nothin. Maybe I nodded, but I don’t think I did. Quiddit lowered hisself and dropped out of sight. I stepped to the edge of the bluff, the crates at my feet, watchin Quiddit climb. I toed the crate with my Carolinas and I don’t think I knew what was comin, but it was like when Daddy used to tell me somethin, like when Quiddit told me to kick Jonny Shackleford. I heard the voice and my foot moved on its own it seemed, kicked that crate harder than I could of my own accord.
Quiddit raised his head and the crates and jars fell past him like rain, some of them smashin against the bluff and leavin a dark wet tear trail down the limestone face.
“What the fuck? “ Quiddit hollered. “What the fuck you doin you little piece of shit?”
The second crate I have to take responsibility for. Part of it was the fear in me, knowin that whatever I said or did, I was goin to get a beatin, probably worse than that. But the other part was me just mad, mad at that son of a bitch for screwin pretty Nan, screwin Helen, for breakin the kid’s nose, stealin the bike, for helpin me just to make me his own. Quiddit looked at me and his anger fell away. I saw fear on his face for the first time ever. I lifted the crate over my head and aimed it perfect, and I don’t know if I knocked Quiddit off the bluff or if he let go on his own tryin to outfall the wood and glass, but he dropped at least thirty feet and when he hit the bottom, the crate and jars was in shards and splinters all over him. He was soaked in shine and bleedin out all over his bare chest. I imagine that shine made it all sting like a son of a bitch.
I climbed down, feelin high and confident, but not too much so’s to think I couldn’t fall and smash myself to shit. Quiddit might have been moanin the whole time, but it were real quiet and I didn’t hear him until I hopped off the bluff. He weren’t sayin much that made sense, but when I stood over him, his eyes went from glazed to fixed, like I appeared from some kind of nowhere place and I was all that was in the world.
“Get me help. Get me help,” he said. He was pleadin and it didn’t sound like him, didn’t even look like him and I was almost moved to pity until I remembered who he was. He was a mess boy, his arms and legs bent funny, bone stickin out of his pants like the limestone from the land. I stepped close and looked at the blood flow from his cracked head. Horse flies and gnats was already buzzin round the exposed brain.
“I can’t feel nothin,” he said. His eyes moved around in circles and he started to choke up. “I can’t see. Jesus Christ, I can’t see nothin.”
I moved away and his head followed, but his eyes couldn’t find me. “You gettin help? You gonna get me help, friend?”
I collected the Mongoose from the briar, pedaled off down Cave Creek Road the way we came. It was downhill and the wind was cool on my wet face and I smelled rain. There was a few rises in the road for I’d even be able to see town, before I’d be able to tell people ‘bout the accident that happened to my best good friend.