April 18, Everyone Who Pretends to Like Him Disappears [Short Story]
Set to The Walkmen’s Red Moon
A kid named Davis wonders where his father is. He spends all summer wondering. Summer goes by quick. School starts, the wondering persists. When he was six, his father disappeared. Some said the FBI took him away. Others said he couldn’t take the grief of his wife’s death and jumped off a cliff. Davis remembers it was summer when he last saw his father.
First period. Fifth grade. History class. Davis arrives early and meets his friend Sandy. Sandy spent his summer on beaches, surfing with his daddy, building sandcastles. Says his daddy taught him how to talk to girls.
“He’s a master. He says some boys are good at it and some suck. The boys who are good, get wives. The boys who suck, get hoes.”
“What’s a hoe?”
“It’s a girl who’ll be your friend if you buy her ice cream from the beach-stand.”
Second week of school. He notices her in English class. Cat like eyes. Eyelashes that curve. Brown hair. Streaks of gold. Rosy cheeks. Her name’s Claudia. Claudia, Claudia, Claudia. In that moment that becomes the greatest name in the world. He walks home that day with a heaviness in his belly, a brightness in his heart, a strut to his walk.
The next day, recess, he asks Sandy to teach him how to talk to girls.
“All right, I can help you but my daddy says I shouldn’t do things for free. You have to pay me.”
“C’mon, we’re friends aren’t we? Friends help friends.”
“Yeah but only after knowing each other for a long time, say perhaps two years. Then, help is free.”
“All I got is this bag of chips.”
Sandy snatches the bag, puts his arm around Davis’s shoulder and walks with him, smiling.
“It’s sort of like talking to boys but being nice all the time and letting them get what they want.”
“Makes sense… Is that it?”
“But that’s how I talk to everyone,” says Davis.
“Then you’re not thinking when you talk.”
“C’mon, there has to be something more.”
“My dad has a manual called ‘Codes for Bros’ or something. I could bring it tomorrow,” says Sandy.
“Yeah I’m not allowed to touch that book. My mommy says it’s filthy,” says Sandy.
“Now what do I do?” says Davis.
“You’re supposed to learn the method from your dad,” says Sandy.
“I don’t have a dad,” says Davis.
“Ask your mom.”
“My mom’s dead.”
“Ask your grandpa.”
“He talks to my little cousins like they’re pets.”
“I can’t help you. I’m still learning myself,” says Sandy.
“I bet I can find out how on the Internet,” says Davis.
Sandy shakes his head.
“My dad tells me if I look at girls on the Internet, I’ll transform into a creepy bear forever and the FBI will take me away.”
“Well would you look at these two losers?”
A deep voice. A tall boy named Bradley walks up with his cronies. He’s only in grade five and he already has muscles and excels in gym and nothing else.
“What do you want Bradley?” says Sandy.
“You two ready for another year of beats?”
“Go to hell Bradley. Leave us alone,” says Davis.
“Isn’t that where your dad went? Oh yeah, wasn’t he taken away by the FBI because he was doing some scientific experiments? Oh yes, trying to open a portal to the devil.”
“Shut up, Bradley. Don’t talk about my dad.”
Bradley’s face becomes serious, the face he makes before he beats on Davis.
“What’re you going to do? Huh, Davis?”
Davis and Sandy get their butts kicked. As he lies flat on the ground, he sees Claudia’s eyes looking at him from the school doors. The bell rings.
That day he doesn’t strut home, his mind consumed with what she might think of him. He needs to learn how to talk to girls. Fast. Before he gets even more humiliated. He asks grandfather. Grandfather laughs and continues reading his newspaper. Grandmother thinks it’s cute and tells all her bingo friends over the phone.
The Internet. I guess he’ll have to risk turning into a bear.
“Grandfather, can we buy a computer.”
“We already have one. Come with me.”
Grandfather takes Davis to the attic and pulls out a box of computer parts. It’s an old tower CPU. Windows 98 CD-ROM. It was Davis’s dads.
“If you can fix it, you got yourself a new computer.”
“Grandfather, this is from the 90s.”
“It’s a computer. It’ll always be new.”
Davis looks into the black screen of the monitor. At his reflection. Sees his father in his face. Sees his father somewhere in the screen.
He lies in bed that night thinking of her. He misses her. How can he miss her? Does he love her? Already? He wakes up and realizes he likes cats all of a sudden.
On the weekend, he goes to the library and takes out books on computers. He remembers Claudia was reading a book called Twilight in English class. He checks the book out, starts reading it for clues about her, wonders where all the vampires are.
The Monday, he tells Sandy about his crush on Claudia.
“Dude, she is popular,” says Sandy. “I heard she knows Lady Gaga. I’d never get used to all that attention.”
“I like her, dude. I don’t know what to do about it.”
“I got it,” says Sandy.
Sandy smiles and rubs his fingers. Davis sighs and gives Sandy another bag of chips.
“We write her a poem.”
“I don’t know how to write a poem. I can barely write a paragraph.”
“WE don’t have to write it. We’ll just copy parts of popular songs.”
“God! That’s brilliant!”
Second recess, they head to the library and look up songs on the Internet, copy a few lyrics, print them out, fold the paper up, and head to Math.
Math class begins, he passes the page along. It reaches Claudia. As soon as she gets it, Mr. Rodgers notices.
“Claudia? What do you got there?”
“Sir? Nothing sir. Just a paper.”
“Just a paper my balls! Why don’t you come up here and read it.”
Claudia swallows, walks up to the front, unfold the paper. Her curvy eyesbrows rise in disbelief when she sees what’s written. Then a smile that melts Davis’s heart.
“Read it, please,” says Mr. Rodgers.
She clears her throat.
“If I was your boyfriend, I’d never let you go
I can take you places you ain’t never been before.”
She stops, shakes her head, starts to giggle.
“Go ahead,” says Mr. Rodgers.
“Swag swag swag, on you
Swag swag swag, on me”
The whole class bursts into laughter.
“You don’t know you’re beautiful!
So let me tell you
If you let me, here’s what I’ll do
I’ll take care of you
I get money
I get paper
I get girls of different flavours.
I’m sexy and I know it
I got brothers in paris
I got no love for hoes
Just thought you should know it
The real is on the rise
Forget them other guys,
Here’s my number,
so call me, baby … your secret admirer… Wait, there’s no number here.”
“Who the crap wrote this?” says Mr. Rodgers. “Hmmm? Come out now or the whole class has a quiz tomorrow.”
Sweat runs down Davis’s face. No one comes forward.
“All right then, a quiz it is.”
Sandy gives Davis a dirty look as the bell rings and they leave.
“That was your chance. It was worth the detention but you chickened out.”
“Sorry? That poem was beautiful. Now no one will know it was us!”
Tuesday. He sees her smiling at Bradley, smiling, as he talks. SMILING! His stomach fills with the worst feeling in the world. What if Bradley took credit for the poem? Bradley, who only excels at gym because he’s tall enough to hang off the basketball net. Davis feels depressed for the first time in his life. He eats his lunch alone in an abandoned stairwell on a window ledge. He stares out the window and wonders: Why would she like him at all? What does he have? He remembers something his grandfather told him when he was seven.
“The name of the game is power. You ain’t got power, you’re in the wrong place.”
Davis has no power at all. He looks at the clouds and beyond the horizon he sees cat like eyes and streaks of gold in her hair. The feeling in his stomach is a mixed bag of anticipation and nausea. Emanating. A paused anticipation. An unending nausea. A cat held off the ground by its collar. Flailing. Helpless. He can’t take it anymore.
He approaches her in English class.
“Hi, my name is Davis.” The words come out of his mouth like low volume television speakers. She doesn’t hear him. Doesn’t even notice him standing a foot away from her desk. But Mrs. Sperling, however, does notice. She rebukes him for speaking when she’s addressing the class. The whole class laughs and in the midst of that laughter, Claudia’s eyes finally see him. The expression on her face. Like she just took a crap.
He goes home, depressed once again. He just lost his chance. He starts building his computer. He needs the Internet. He doesn’t care if he turns into a bear. He takes out all the parts from the box. Mouse. Keyboard. Hard drive. Power cable. Fan. IDE Cable. Ethernet Cable. Motherboard. Power supply. Internal speaker. RAM. CPU. Floppy drive.
He follows the book, plugs the parts in sockets, plugs the computer in and presses the power button. Nothing happens. He looks over the computer and realizes what he’s missing: PS/2 cables.
He spends the evening going door to door asking for the cables. No one has any. Most people don’t know what they even are.
Then, a girl opens the door. She’s Punjabi. Black hair. Ponytail. Braces. Square rimmed glasses. The house smells like Indian cooking. A television in the background.
“Hi. I’m Davis. You have any PS /2 cables.”
She looks at his face for a long time. Then says.
“I have a PS3.”
He shakes his head.
“No, not a console. It’s for my computer.”
“I was joking. I know what you’re talking about. Let me get them for you.”
She returns with the cables.
“I’m building a computer,” says Davis.
“I’m really good at building computers. I build them all the time with my dad. My name is Rosie… Rosie Gill.”
They shake hands and she smiles. They stand there on the steps looking at each other for a few moments.
“What school do you go to?” says Davis.
“Same as you.”
“Yeah, you haven’t seen me, tho,” she says. “I might be in another grade 5 class… I’ve seen you though.”
“Rosie! Rosie, come do the dishes,” screams her mother.
“Oh… okay, well, thanks for the cables,” says Davis.
Rosie looks inside, closes the door, whispers.
“You know, I could come and help you.”
They go back to Davis’s house, plug the cables in, press the power button. It turns on. A black screen. Words scroll up. The screen pops. A chittering sound of static popping. The screen fills with light blue. Windows 98. Home Edition. Loading.
“This is an old computer,” says Rosie.
“It was my dad’s.”
“You should get a new one.”
The screen loads to a desktop. A dozen icons. He grabs the mouse.
“Where’s the Internet?” he says.
“I guess this before Firefox,” says Rosie.
She puts her fingers on his, finds Internet explorer, double clicks with him. His insides fill with helium. She takes her hand away. He calms.
“Sorry,” she says.
“Sorry for what?”
The window loads to an error page.
“Why isn’t it working?”
“You don’t have Internet access.”
“You could come to my house tomorrow… if you want.”
“I’m afraid to use the school computers.”
“Why? What are you looking up?”
He hesitates. An awkward silence.
“I want to learn how to talk to girls properly.”
“Well… you’re talking to me properly.”
“It’s not just that… there’s this girl at school. Claudia. I kinda like her and don’t want to screw up. I don’t how to approach her.”
“I know Claudia. Apparently she knows Lady Gaga.”
“What do I do?”
“Just ask her out.”
“To the beach.”
“And do what?”
“By her an ice cream cone.”
“But that’s what you give to a hoe.”
Rosie rubs her arm awkwardly.
“You know what… We could pretend… You could be my boyfriend.”
Davis’s stomach fills with helium once again and he looks at the icons on the desktop.
“It can be until you find someone better. And I could teach you all that I know. Plus it’ll make her jealous. I read that in a magazine that I wasn’t supposed to read.”
“Okay,” says Davis. “Let’s try that.” He’s willing to try anything.
The next day. At recess. Davis and Rosie hold hands and walk around showing off. Sandy laughs when he sees them.
“Pretending is the worst,” says Sandy.
“We’re not pretending.”
Second recess, Davis and Rosie run into Bradley.
“Look at this. The little loser is dating a Paki.”
This angers Davis. He pushes Bradley. Bradley punches him in the face and floors him, then walks away laughing.
Rosie kneels down to pick up Davis.
“No, get away from me,” he says, pushing her away.
“Davis,” she looks into his eyes. “I could love you.”
Davis gives her a weird expression. She barely knows him. How could she possibly…
“Get away from me.”
He walks away.
That night, Davis sits at his computer, fed up. He decides to explore it. Decides to find out what his dad was like. He sees a word document on the desktop titled “Davis”. He opens it. He sees the following text:
“Son, if you’ve opened this, I’m gone. I must keep this short. I want to pee before they take away. I knew you’d be able to put the computer together. With the power of this computer, you’ll be winning for the rest of your life. Never let the bastards get you down! Never. Just do whatever the hell you want! They’ll never know what’s coming to them! Click on Prtnd.exe. My life’s work is the best thing I can give you. I apologize for the discomfort. First time’s a bitch.”
Confused, Davis double-clicks on an application called Prtnd.exe. It asks him to enter his name, birth, every little particular he can think of. Then it leads to a blank prompt screen. He clicks “file’, ‘new”. It calibrates, opens a new file. On the bottom left corner, there’s a button that says “Refresh.” He clicks it. There’s a bright flash outside his window. He clicks again. Another flash. Clicks. Another.
Weird. Another button beside “Refresh” says “Run”.
He clicks it and-sd sfsldfgds l jglsdkfvj ;sdlkfgvl;ksdjf ;lksdjfgv;l jsdlvjl;asjd sauhi yg a psdfgsdfgsdfgsdfg;aksp uzxocso soeifhisd hssdfsdfpsdfjsoidfjos hdiufhsdoisdfoisdhosdhfos hdf hosdfhosdosdfh asdpsdfgsohdfioasdfsadghsdiufh sdfgu s’dfgsdfgs dfgiosdfogoisdfug osdfg sdfsiodufh iusdh CLEANing sdfshdifsiudfisd hfuishdifsidufhsiudfhuisdhfus idfisu dhfuisd hfiusdhf shiudfhsdf sssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss-.
He wakes up in front of the computer. Time to go to school. Takes a shower. Doesn’t notice the muscles. Walks to school. Doesn’t notice the confidence.
Sandy is away today. So are Ms. Sperling and Mr. Rodger. Weird.
He sees Claudia. He walks up to her.
“Hey I like you. I want to take you out,” he says.
“It ain’t easy. A lot of people want to ask me out. Why should I go with you?”
“Because I’m dangerous,” he says with a straight face.
“Where you going to take me?”
“To the beach.”
“Okay, then. Today, after school.”
After school. At the beach. It’s all awkward. He has nothing to talk to her about. He tries talking about cats. She hates cats. They run into Bradley.
“You’re going out with this loser?”
“I’m not a loser,” says Davis.
“Yeah Bradley, I don’t know what I’m doing here with him. Seriously, he hasn’t even bought me an ice cream cone yet.”
Davis looks at her and nods. He knew it.
“Sandy was right,” he says.
“Whatchu say? Creep?” says Bradley.
“You’re a hoe, Claudia.”
“Hey, don’t call her that!” Bradley moves in to punch Davis.
Davis knees him in the belly, cracks his ribs, grabs his right arm, twists, cracks. Left arm. Twists. Cracks. Punches in the face. Plack! Floored!
Claudia gasps in horror. Davis is stunned. How did he just do that? Then his mind fills with Rosie’s face. She wasn’t pretending yesterday. He runs to her house, leaving Claudia.
Davis rings her door bell. No answer. Rings again. She opens it. Comes outside.
“Rosie!” screams her father.
“None of it was pretend yesterday,” says Davis.
“I’m sorry,” says Rosie. “I’m not that good of an actor. Pretending is hard. Listen. My father’s pissed right now. If he sees me with you, he’ll.”
“Rosie,” says Davis. He looks deep into her eyes. “Rosie… I don’t know what this means but… I could love you too.”
They look at each other for a few moments. They both take steps forward. They both lean in. A moment. Then.
The door opens. Her father. Stained wife beater. He grabs her, starts cursing in Punjabi. Drags her in.
“It was worth it Davis. It was worth it!” she says with a euphoric smile.
The door closes. Davis smiles as her father shouts at her.
By Ashish Seth