Ghosts in My Skin
Everyone called him "Buddha," but his name was Eddie. In spite of his big, round belly, laughing grin and twinkly eyes, Eddie suited him better. Maybe Eddie thought so, too, but if he did, he never said anything about it to anyone. Even if he did, it probably wouldn't have changed anything. The nicknames people give you, they become you more than whatever is written on a birth certificate. When you're a kid, parents don't decide who you are and you don't get to decide things like that either. It's the world that decides. At least until you get older and do something about it. If you do something about it.
Not Eddie, though. Eddie went along with other people's bullshit, just squinting and snickering, loving everybody.
It was Kendra's idea to drive out to the ponds. "We'll get one of those pony kegs," she said. "And maybe some Everclear."
That crazy bitch and her hard booze. You'd think that drinking stuff like that on the regular would explain why she's dead. You usually don't see a long lifeline tied to a bottle of pure grain alcohol.
No, Kendra's dead because she looked at a thousand faces and only ever saw useful or useless things, never people. Sure, I had fun hanging out with her because it was high school and don't all high school girls get drunk on the weekends, do reckless shit and punch each other in the face?
Okay, it was usually Kendra punching me in the face, but she only broke the skin once and the scar it left isn't too ugly. It looks kind of like a lightning bolt flashing down to strike my eye. When it was new, I'd practice raising my eyebrow just right, to make my lightning scar stand out more, because kids are dumb and think that looking tough is worth something.
These days, I'd just like to forget I have a scar over my eye, but whenever I see that other me in the mirror, there's that jagged little scar, haunting me.
Eddie had an older brother who could buy booze for Kendra and he had a rusty green hatchback to drive her out to the ponds, or the mountains, or the ends of the Earth if only she'd asked. And he'd let me tag along because he knew that sophomore girls often came in pairs.
Besides, I had the desk next to Buddha's in the third grade. Even then, he'd sit with a hand on each knee, leaned back in his chair, belly stuck out and shaking while he smiled and giggled at everything. That was back when we were all still listening to Michael Jackson or Madonna or whatever the hell else the radio and MTV told us to listen to.
Not Buddha. He knew better. He knew who Bob Dylan and Janis Joplin were long before the rest of us; was more aware of those things that had come before that were so much hipper and cooler than anything from the now.
All part of being a Buddha, I guess. Or of being an Eddie. Take your pick.
All that cool stuff, that's the kind of thing he talked about. Never lame, awkward shit like girls or sadness or things that repel fun and joy. But when Kendra was around, it was obvious. He didn't need to talk about it. And when she suckered him into driving us out to the ponds so we could drink and smoke ourselves into oblivion, Buddha's laugh and smile said, "that sounds fun."
His eyes didn't much agree, though. He looked off somewhere in the distance in a way that said, "That sounds miserable, but I'd trudge through any pile of shit just to spend time with you."
It's hard for me to imagine that in the horror of what happened to her that night, that she'd be coherent or concerned enough to be afraid. Alcohol-soaked, apathetic Kendra was so adventurous, she'd jump into or out of anything just for kicks while I stayed behind, trying to conceal my envy later on when she'd recount exciting stories of strange older men, hotel rooms, crawling in and out of windows, running and hiding from police or angry wives.
She was sometimes so hilarious, I couldn't catch my breath. She got better grades than I did, too. I guess it's those things that Eddie saw. Or maybe he had a clear view of the wreckage, too. Who can understand what a Buddha's thinking?
Poor Buddha. He thought he could handle how mean she’d get once she fell into a blackout. Me, I never cared much. Bruises heal.
After a few shots of Everclear, calling Eddie a pathetic fatass must've been more than he could take. He slumped into his ridiculously tiny car without saying a word to either one of us. A few minutes later, the sounds of the pond at night were destroyed by the grind of Alice in Chains coming from his crappy speakers. Kendra started jerking and stumbling in a clumsy drunkard's dance.
Then I heard the Buddha call my name. I stuck my head in the open passenger side window. "What's up? You okay, man?"
"Yeah, yeah." He nodded without looking at me. "Get in."
"Get in the car. Wanna talk to you."
I straightened and leaned in the direction of the pond, squinting and blinking to get some focus in the darkness. Kendra sat on the ground next to the keg, attempting to light a cigarette. Figuring he needed to vent now that Kendra's assholery had bummed him out, I got in the car and left my leg sticking out.
"Close the door," he said, turning the key in the ignition.
I knew we were leaving her there. I didn't get out of the car. I didn't tell him to stop. I tilted the rearview mirror on the door, caught a darkened, fuzzy view of Kendra sitting on the ground, shouting something I couldn't decipher through the slurring and music.
Then I turned away and went on saying nothing.
After a couple miles, Buddha said, "We'll go back in a few. I just had to get away from her for a little bit. That girl really bums me out sometimes."
"Why'd you bring me along?"
"I dunno." He shrugged. "Just felt like having someone to talk to."
"Yeah. I get it."
I stared out the window, spacing out on all the scenery lit up by the full moon, which was really only a dried-out field with a silhouette of the mountains as a backdrop. I was hypnotized by it all, then I began to wonder when we'd be heading back for Kendra, who I imagined must be passed out cold under a tree by now.
Then Eddie's hand gripped the back of my skull.
"What the fuck?" I turned my head so fast that it sent a burning pain shooting up from my shoulder to my head.
The Buddha, he just laughed. "You have one of those weird-shaped heads."
"Huh?" I put both hands on my skull, feeling around for abnormalities.
"You know, it kind of sticks out in the back like one of those Xenomorphs in that 'Aliens' movie."
"I have a head like a fucking alien?"
"Well, it probably doesn't protrude quite so much... but, yeah." Another laugh rippled through him. "S'okay. Rob has the same weird-shaped head problem."
He had to go and mention Rob. Of course he did.
"Oh, shit. I'm sorry," he said. "You two still not speaking?"
"More like, he's not speaking."
"I'm sorry, hon. I invited him to come with us tonight, tried to get him to mend fences, you know?"
"Thanks. I'm pretty sure that fence burned down to the ground, though."
Eddie lit a couple of smokes and handed one to me. "Well – and I say this as a friend – you don't handle rejection very well."
"And you do? We're out in the middle of cow-fuck Egypt because you have a thing for some drunken mean girl.” I said, “and besides, I'm paying for Rob's windshield."
Eddie, he gave me a look that was all butthurt and indignation, but then he laughed and said, "Yeah, Kendra might be mean, but you're fucking crazy."
"It's not like he was still in the car, or anything," I said, shrinking down in my seat.
We both laughed. When it died down, he said, "We should go back now."
"Yeah. We should."
He put his hand on the gear shifter, the glowing orange of the cigarette still between the fingers of his right hand. It was only a small sting when it touched the bare skin of my leg, just above the knee. My leg jerked away from him before I fully comprehended why.
"Aw, shit. Did I getcha? I'm sorry, hon."
"Nah, it's all right. No biggie."
I said no biggie, and I meant it, but that little burn, it left an angry blotch of a round, red scar on my leg like a tiny burning sun.
The ponds were quiet and deserted when we returned, as though no one had been there at all. We looked around, called out Kendra's name, but before long, we gave up searching. Looking back, I know we could have tried harder. Should've tried harder. And I know it wouldn't have done any good.
A janitor found her the next morning, laying in the parking lot of our high school. Her clothes were gone. Someone had dressed her in a dirty white men's t-shirt and a pair of tighty-whities. One of her legs had been smashed, along with one of her hands. She walked with a horrible limp afterward and never told anyone what had been done to her, or who had done it. Maybe because she didn't even know, or just wished she didn't.
She didn't remember that we'd abandoned her, leaving her alone and vulnerable, waiting for whoever'd found her and broken her.
Only we knew, me and the Buddha. The thing about being Buddha, you can't live with secrets. You can't go on existing with everyone else if you're carrying the burden of a destroyed life on your back. You can't survive guilt.
Kendra, she couldn't survive being Kendra, so she followed the Buddha to wherever it is people go when they stop being here.
And me, well, I'm the only one left now and I just had to tell somebody. It might as well be you. It's the scars that told me to. The ghosts in my skin. Permanent marks left by dead friends in my living flesh. Tiny burning reminders of my old friends who are waiting for me.
Rasmenia Massoud is from Colorado, but has spent the past decade living in France, where she spends time confusing the natives by speaking French poorly and writing about what she struggles most to understand: human beings. She is the author of the short story collections, Human Detritus and Broken Abroad. Her writing has appeared in various places, including The Foundling Review, The Lowestoft Chronicle, Metazen, Full of Crow, and Underground Voices. You can visit her at: http://www.rasmenia.com/
Deep Water Literary Journal
2015 - Issue 2 - August
Elizabeth Bodien (USA)
Chanel Brenner (USA)
Claire Vogel Camargo (USA)
Saddiq Dzukogi (Nigeria)
S.E. Gale (Australia)
Gary Glauber (USA)
Clare Hepworth-Wain (England)
Strider Marcus Jones (England)
Robert S. King (USA)
Steve Klepetar (USA)
Ron. Lavalette (USA)
Sada Malumfashi (Nigeria)
Rasmenia Massoud (France)
Catfish McDaris (USA)
Pat J Mullan (Ireland)
Christine Murray (Ireland)
Heather Mydosh (USA)
Caleb J. Oakes (USA)
David O’Neill (Ireland)
Rachel C. Peters (USA)
Mark Antony Rossi (USA)
Walter Ruhlmann (France)
John Saunders (Ireland)
Terry Savoie (USA)
Larry Schug (USA)
Pepper Swell (USA)
The Man in the Black Pyjamas (Ireland)