At the Christmas tree graveyard, grey pines are heaped around us. Last year’s tinsel swims, streaming through the air. Have you ever seen it in summer?
Theo pulls off his mask, plugs one nostril and launches another snot rocket. Brown gobs splat on the carpet of needles beneath his sneakers. “Don’t worry, Sam,” he moans. “It’s just allergies. Hey, how’s your gout?”
“The same,” I tell him and glance down at my right foot. “Hurts.”
Theo fumbles with the VCR remote control he has repurposed as a detonator. When he builds explosives, I recall last summer, the first summer after community college. Theo and I eating peaches over the trailer sink, nectar drooling down our forearms. He and I thieving beer coolers left unattended by day campers. Theo and I, mouthing each other’s bodies, tasting sweat and boy and DEET. Fond memories, though, sting soon enough.
Theo points to his newest creation. The toaster oven bomb is perched on a stump, fifty feet away. Black and brown wires spring up like a slop of kinked cartoon hair.
“This one’s way better than that last rinky dink piece of shit,” he says, two hickeys gleaming on his neck. “I had to step up my game.”
“Where you gonna leave it?” I ask.
“Not sure,” Theo replies, snorting. “Maybe City Hall. Maybe the library.”
“I wanna see it, though.”
Theo grins, tugs on his crotch. “You love seeing it blow, don’t you, baby boy?”
I remember Saturdays before the virus and force a smug smile. “Can I go too?”
“Sorry. Not smart. If shit goes down, I need you safe.”
You know that I do not like Theo’s bombs. Remember the shed he blew up containing Lenny Willard’s snowmobile? Remember the dumpster he destroyed behind the rehab clinic?
“I gotta find the perfect place,” Theo says.
I see an orphaned Christmas bulb winking among the remains. “What if someone gets hurt?”
“Yo, everyone can fuck off. It’s like…war,” he says.
“It doesn’t have to be.”
I can tell you that Theo is not a derelict boy. I believe the prophesies of Sheila, the spooky, wild-haired campground psychic. Hunched before a fire pit, she’d told me that Theo is destined to become some sort of legend. “Keep your eyes on him,” she’d cried in a Fireball haze. “He could change the world for you…for all of us.”
Theo says, “I wish we were in a place like New York. We could blow up the Statue of Liberty. Or that famous building. What’s it called? We could put on a big fuckin’ show.”
My mask is dense with sweat and saliva and Theo cannot see the unease cramping my mouth.
“Why aren’t you pissed off?” he asks me. “Why aren’t you mad? Why aren’t you angry?”
You know that I shield myself. I dodge the nonstop news and stash my phone in the nightstand. America’s unbuttoning has hollowed me enough. All my leftover hope is secretly stashed somewhere inside me.
Theo grips the detonator. He says, “I wish you’d fucking hate everything too.”
Theo once spoke of the golden coast and a Kawasaki crotch rocket, but now, he spews rage. For seven months, it has swelled inside of him. This boy of mine is a blister bulging.
“They left us with nothing!” he yells. “Our parents. The asshole President. Our neighbors. We have nothing!”
I will tell you a secret. Long after we are no longer pretty and these bleak days are done, I will still snip the tags from all his t-shirts, and I will still build him ham and cheese double-deckers for lunch. Do you think he knows this? Do you think I’m crazed?
“They left us with nothing,” Theo says again, this time a whisper.
I long to tell him, but we have us. I want to say, we can make something more, something bigger than bombs. Instead, I say, “Do it. Please? I wanna see the boom.”
My toe begins to blaze, flaring even more.
“Stand back, baby boy,” he says.
Theo scuffs to my side, grips my hand.
I promise you that the rest of his bombs will be only for me.
“Make it go,” I tell him.
Michael Graves is the author of the forthcoming novel, Parade (Storgy Books, 2021). He also wrote Dirty One, a collection of short stories that was named an American Library Association Honoree and nominated for a Lambda Literary Award. His fiction and poetry can be found in publications like Pank, Post Road and Eclectica Magazine. Follow Michael on Twitter @MGravesauthor.