Splinters pinched Lucky’s naked back slowly, and more slowly. After many minutes, it itched more than it hurt. Sometimes it stopped itching altogether for a span of isolated pain. The pain made his heart feel so large it had to be the only thing under his skin. It pumped liquid. The sweat made his back sticky. He had never fainted before, but considered the possibility. The thought of falling asleep here made him wrinkle his nose.
Lucky imagined the sweat from his back saturating the wooden platform. His back felt hot, so he thought of his sweat as boiling water. Boiling water was the transformative ingredient in pasta. Over time — that was, over the indefinite amount of time he would remain a captive on the wooden merry-go-round — his back sweat would turn the splinters of wood into spaghetti. Oiled spaghetti was always tastier than dry spaghetti, and either way, spaghetti was soft and not capable of making his back itch nor hurt.
Positive thinking was what they had taught him in the Friendship Room on Tuesdays after recess. It was when you thought about a negative situation until there was something about it that was fun, that you owned. Turning wood into spaghetti was positive. Then Lucky’s face started to itch. All the skin on his arms and legs rushed toward the middle of his body to make of itself a fist that could raise itself in opposition to the sensation. One word traveled through his veins, into his organs and back out to his fingers and toes and groin and then into his head and out his eyes, his mouth and his scalp without making a sound: NO. He shivered. That must have been what bodies did when they were so overheated they got bored: shivered.
No. No. NO. no. no…NO!!! His lips loosened around the word as his neck flickered. Tears tasted like droplets of soup on his tongue.
Laura would be here soon. He had told her a bunch of people were going swimming. She had gymnastics practice, but had promised she would meet them here later.
His choice was between an itch and a burn, although an hour — perhaps two — had passed since the choice was presented. Lucky lay naked under a sun that he knew would turn his pale, freckled body shades of agony. Twenty paces from where he lay cooking, there was an abundance of shade. In that shade was his clothing, piled up on top of his shoes in a neat little ball at the trunk of a tree. Across the parking lot was his bicycle, and fifteen blocks away was his home. He had forgotten his sunscreen when he left the house, and had realized his error earlier in the day, not supposing he would need it.
Between Lucky and the edge of the wooden merry-go-round was an arrangement of poison ivy covering the surface. He did not know how close to his limbs the poison ivy was, so he remained still. He would remain still. Laura would be here soon. Then Laura would see him remaining still. It was probably not good that she would see him this way.
The easy solution would be to sit up and survey the width of opportunity to rise to his feet and jump to freedom without grazing any of the treacherous plant. His captivity was the fact that if he shifted his bodyweight in any direction, the wooden structure started to spin, and any amount of spin could cause petals of the menace to tumble.
He knew why they tricked him into going skinny-dipping, so that they could lure him to the wooden relic and tell him to close his eyes for a game of hide and seek, and when he opened them, here he was with Dan, Tyson and Marv standing over him with crossed arms. Then Tyson explained to him that his body was surrounded with poison ivy, and Dan added that he would sunburn while he waited for release. Marv emphasized that there was purpose in this cruelty; Lucky would learn his lesson. While the three walked off, Lucky yelled the question why. After an hour — perhaps two — of thinking, Lucky knew why. It was because they thought he kissed Tyson’s sister Laura. That was untrue; Lucky had never kissed Laura. They pretended to once when he was eight and she was nine, because they were bored, but there was a leaf between their mouths, and even if the leaf had dropped, it would not have been a kiss or anything like it.
Lucky knew Laura from the Friendship Room on Tuesdays after recess. She would be here any minute, or not for a long time, and either way, she would see Lucky hurt.
They always told him to stay focused. The teachers, the counselors. The sun was never focused; the sun was just everywhere. Even though it felt like the sun focused all its weight on his skin, its light was as much everywhere else as it was on him, yet it still had the power to turn his skin a different color. If he focused on things, rather than make his mind spew itself over things like the sun, how then could he make things change a different color? When teenagers kissed on those television shows he was not supposed to watch, the ones that came on after Eight PM, the boy was marked with red lipstick smears around his mouth. That was what kisses did; they turned things red. He did not want the sun to kiss him. Unless there was some means by which he could kiss it back.
His fingers twitched against each other. He lifted his chin until he could see his stomach start to change. It was not all one color. His sunburns came in shapes. He had forgotten that, until he looked at his stomach. Last summer when he got sunburned on his back from a day at Camp Lucia and his mom scolded him for being irresponsible, she saw it later in the evening when he lifted his shirt so that she could apply aloe vera lotion to his skin. He heard her hold her breath and was too scared to ask. She did not reach for the phone to call a doctor. She looked at his back; her eyes could not take in the sight in one instant. She had to keep looking. Dad came home and Mom made Lucky show Dad to confirm that she was not crazy. She was not crazy. The following week, he showed Donald with whom he walked to school. Donald was not crazy either.
Although Lucky never saw it himself, various parties described the same hieroglyphics on his back; an etching of a crooked stick figure holding a rifle, pointing it at a car. A month later Mom choked on Cornflakes, coughed and sat frozen with a nickel sized pool of milk slowly spreading on the newspaper in front of her.
The man in the news had a scary name. Judd Beesworth. Judd Beesworth had escaped from the county jail and confronted a police cruiser on Bathwater Road on foot with an assault rifle. Lucky saw the black and white photograph before Mom slammed the newspaper closed. Donald did not look Lucky in the eye when they walked to school.
The church said that divination was a sin. The teachers, the counselors made no comment. If the church said that all forms of prophecy were sinful, Lucky wondered if that meant it was illegal for him to get a sunburn. And then he forgot all about it.
It had nothing to do with a kiss. Dan, Tyson and Marv could care less about a kiss — probably didn’t even remember. Odd that Lucky remembered kissing Laura through a leaf and forgot about magic sunburns. Dan, Tyson and Marv wanted to know the future.
Lucky felt stupidity in his skin when he heard his name called. It was Laura. The tips of her hair flew over his shoulder.
“Don’t come closer,” said Lucky. “Poison ivy. If you-”
Her narrow hand brushed the lethal plant aside in four angry motions. He had seen her brush spiders off her turquoise lunchbox that way. “Where’s my brother? Where’s everyone else?” Lucky did not answer. She looked at his nakedness and smiled an embarrassed suppressed laugh. “Get up stupid.”
Lucky rolled to the ground and stood up, feeling dizzy from the quarter spin.
She looked disappointed. Lucky looked at her fingers. They did not itch yet, but Lucky imagined what the rash would look like later. “You should dip your hands in the water quickly, wash the oils off,” Lucky told her. “Like right now.”
She shook her head. Any future instant that Lucky disappointed someone in his life, that disappointment would be compared with Laura’s face in front of the wooden merry-go-round with fingers soaked in his shame.
His voice made a question and a statement simultaneously. When Lucky grew to be an adult, some people would find that to be his most endearing quality, and others would detest it to the point of denying him jobs and friendship. “It’s too late?”
He looked at the sky. It looked hot.
“Is it true what they say?” The interest with which Laura looked at him was too large for the Friendship Room; it needed an outdoor landscape to spread itself. A dizziness entered Lucky’s stomach, but would not be dizziness until it rose to his head, and since it stayed in his stomach, it was not dizziness but something else. Laura’s posture made the merry-go-round rock and shake slowly. Her questions knocked on the air like the world was a door. Her silence knocked loudly and more loudly.
Lucky said, “You mean, my skin telling the future?”
Laura folded her arms and looked just above his nakedness. “I want to see it. You shouldn’t show everybody. It’s a shame everyone knows. But they’ll forget if you only show me, and I won’t tell anyone about the future.”
The sky looked like it might catch on fire. They were constellations up there that meant things, and would not be visible for several more hours. His body was now a fountain of constellations that would later be commented on. Was it too late?
Laura sat down on the merry-go-round and waited for a push. Lucky was so preoccupied that she had to ask him for one.
“Fast or slow?” said Lucky. He started putting on his clothes.
The next morning Lucky lay in bed feeling punishment prick his arms, legs, chest and stomach from every direction. He had not looked at himself.
She thought about fast and she thought about slow.
Lucky walked to his bedroom mirror. His body felt like a sack full of rusty mechanical parts that could easily burst and spill to the floor. He stood at the mirror and did not look, but got dressed.
Laura scooted to the edge and propelled the wooden disk by pushing the grass five times with her foot and then climbed back to a sitting position. “Push me faster. As fast as you can push.”
The teachers and the counselors would know nothing. Mom and Dad ate their breakfast. Later he would find where they kept the aloe vera lotion in the bathroom cabinet and put it back carefully as he had found it. Pain did not need to be public.
Lucky shoved with one arm and then the other and Laura held on laughing. She was still spinning when he got on his bicycle.
Then he looked at the poison ivy on the ground and wondered if it was poison ivy.
| COPYRIGHT 2006-2011
Portland Fiction Project
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