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The International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Homecoming

A Sensitive, Thin Man
Lars Flatmo

Reclining on my father's dirty living room couch made from raw white silk, I see through the drawn bamboo blinds my friend's short frame rapidly advancing across the front lawn towards the front door.
"You’re home!" Jacob says as I open the door. I just look at him, with eyes half-closed from the brightness. I want to explain to Jacob that I am a sensitive, thin man in need of long undisturbed hours of self-absorption, and that he should call ahead before coming over.

"I made you this compilation disc since I know you don’t have any good music." He sticks a CD into my hand. On the back of the disc sleeve he’s scribbled in graffiti-style lettering a laundry list of death metal band names. The band names are all gory-sounding diseases and blasphemous references.
We drift down my familiar hallway toward my old familiar room.
"I came over about a week ago but you weren’t home, I talked to your father though. It seemed like he was eating an entire chicken by himself for dinner, and drinking a 2-liter of Pepsi." Jacob tells me.

In my room, Jacob sits cross-legged in my old armchair of various multicolored yarns that are coming loose while I sit on the floor next to the stereo. I put in the CD, and the first song that comes on is all rapid-fire drumbeats and terrorizing guitar sounds and screams. I turn the volume down and Jacob starts to tell me about the conversation he and my father had the previous week about attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, since my father also used to attend AA meetings when he and mom were dating.

Suddenly the music stops for no reason at all and it’s very quiet in my room. I stare blankly at Jacob's head. The shaggy, matted hair that used to cover the sides of his face has been shaved off, and without it his eyes have the sensitive look of a child. It’s unnerving in a way. His cropped hair has been dyed blond, which matches his yellowish complexion.

Extending one leg, he points at my feet which are dirty and encrusted with thick calluses with his Vans. "What happened to your feet?"

I consider telling Jacob that most of the time I just walk around barefoot, but say nothing. People become surprised and then concerned about the possibly of me walking upon millions of microscopic shards of green glass that sparkle the streets, and which are undoubtedly laced with hepatitis. I would like to find comfortable shoes but can never seem to. What I'd really like is to enroll in some kind of community workshop where a hippy art teacher would teach us how to weave together moccasins from raw materials.
"My stomach feels like a waterbed." I mumble.
"Maybe a watermelon is growing inside."
"I don’t much like watermelon." I say after reflecting a bit.
"What’s wrong with it?"
"My stomach? I don’t know." I crook my head and furrow an eyebrow, doing my best Marlon Brando impersonation.
"I had this guy stand up on it during a camping trip with some people I know from State. But that was a while ago."
"Why the hell’d you do that?"
"I wanted to know how it’d feel. Didn’t your Karate teacher used to do that to you?" I point to my gut where the guy had applied his full weight.
"That was higher up where all the abdominal muscles are, you don’t have any muscles down there right around the pelvic region."
"Oh shit."

I turn toward my mismatched stereo system, which sits atop a 70's green Naugahyde chair and is flanked by giant brown stereo speakers with the fuzzy coverings. The chair looks like one of those ones high schools hang onto for about three decades, the kind you might see in a councilors office where scrawny long-haired teenagers with denimed legs sit, drifting off. The Naugahyde is smooth and cracked in the seat where the receiver, CD player and turntable are stacked. Sliding out an old record, I gingerly lay it on the record player. Then I turn the device on and touch the needle to the lined vinyl. Soothing bluegrass music comes on and it plays well along with the buzz of a chainsaw rotating off in the distance. I know Jacob doesn't like this music. I lace my hands behind my head and lye back on the brown carpet, imagining a gang of guitar and banjo players riding in the back of some old jalopy full of watermelons and hay, twanging and weaving away on a bumpy southern road.

Jacob puts down a magazine he's been looking at and stands up. "Do you have any alcohol?" He says.
I shake my head.
"Well let's go for a drive and a smoke, maybe we can get you something to put on your feet. And I want to go to Burger King too."
"I don’t want to go to McDonald’s."
"Not McDonald’s, Burger King."
I stand up, stretch, and walk over to peer through the blinds. "I hate driving the Volvo."
"Well I can’t drive. If you won’t drive, we walk. Don’t you want to eat at Burger King?"

I steer the old Volvo station wagon into a dilapidated shopping plaza located about a mile from my father's house. This mall has become a wasteland with many of the storefronts vacant, having gone out of business one-by-one over the last ten years. There's plenty of parking close-by, but I park the car some distance from the stores as we finish our cigarettes in the car. Once finished, we make our way across the hot lot as we head for frosty shakes and hamburgers with all the greasy fixings. Burger King has a pretty strict no bare feet policy, and I try my best to keep the soles of my feet from coming into contact with the floors of fast-food restaurants, so while Jacob orders two Double Whoppers and two vanilla shakes as I wait in a plastic booth near the front entrance.

We sit and eat. I talk a little bit about college and how this year I mostly just took the required courses as well as a few introductory Business Administration classes. Jacob mentions he is currently working in a store at the mall that sells educational toys. He says his sister, who knows the owner, helped him land this job a month ago. We finish our hamburgers and shakes then sit still for a while, as our stomachs churn.

Shoe City is just one store down from the Burger King. We pass through sliding glass doors and enter into a warehouse of a shoe store, where boxes upon boxes of shoes are left out for customers to rummage through. After scanning the bright aisles I eventually hone in on a pair of Chuck Taylor knock-offs, however I have trouble finding the nine and a half inch black canvas variety. I approach a stock girl nearby who is busy arranging shoeboxes on a large metal display rack using a long metal pole. She loads a box of fancy women’s shoes onto a small platform welded to the end of the pole, and then elevating it, places the box high upon the rack. When she turns her attention towards me, I show her the shoes I’m interested in and ask if they have my size in the back. She takes the shoebox from my hands and then, after glancing at my feet, disappears inside the stockroom. When she returns she has the correct size and color plus a pair of disposable beige-colored socks that look like women's stockings.

I lace up one shoe, then squatting, dig a foot in and pull the white laces tight. While still bent, as I tie the laces into a bow, I ask Jacob why he goes to AA meetings. He hesitates, and then tells me that a couple of months ago he went to a party at a friend of a friend's apartment. At the party he’d been drinking whiskey and beer and was singing at the top of his lungs, kissing strangers and laughing.

I rise and looking at Jacob, notice he’s grinning. I tread several paces awkwardly with one foot strapped in while the other stockinged foot touches the cool linoleum flooring. I pivot, and return to face my friend.

Jacob goes on to claim that another unknown person at the party, annoyed with his behavior, started pushing him around and telling him to shut up because he was in a bad mood. When Jacob didn’t quit it, the angry guy pushed Jacob down a couple of times onto a couch full of people. The second time Jacob was pushed into the laps of the drunk people relaxing on the couch, they held him fast to prevent him from getting up. When Jacob continued laughing they attempted to cover his mouth with their hands, but this only made him laugh harder. Finally, once Jacob struggled to his feet, the irate man seized him by the collar and the two spun like ice dancers performing a couples maneuver until the man eventually let go, launching Jacob headfirst into the hallway where his head connected with a wooden doorframe.

"I woke up on the grass outside the apartment just as paramedics were loading me into the ambulance. In the emergency room they informed me I had sustained a concussion, but was otherwise okay. I was released a few hours later. But two weeks later I was smoking a cigarette during lunch break, when I all of a sudden I started getting the spins. I felt spaced out, like I was in some kind of weird altered state and my head was disconnected from the rest of my body. When it kept happening from time to time, I eventually had to go see a neurologist to have it checked out. They’ve run a bunch of tests, but so far they don’t really know what’s causing it."

I don't know what to say, so I don't say anything. I crouch down again and, resting my chin on my knee, frown at the shoe on my foot. I press down on the toe. They’re comfortable enough but just feel cheap.
"Why don't you just buy some flip flops?" Jacob asks.
"They always cause me blisters between my toes."
"You want to look someplace else?"
"I just want to go home. Let's call it a night."

He shrugs and we leave. We motor through the cool, late afternoon glooming with the car windows down. The suburban streets today seem completely deserted, the manicured lawns and neighboring parks are vivid and real to look at. As I drop Jacob off at the entrance to his sister’s townhome community, he shuts the squeaky car door and sticks his head in the open window.
"See you soon." I say. "Maybe next year when I'm back in school you come up and visit sometime. You could probably crash in my dorm room for a few days if my roommate doesn't mind."
Jacob just nods. "Yeah maybe."

I wave him off, and drive home where I promptly collapse back onto the living room couch and I sleep for an hour. I awake abruptly to find the orange glow that had been filtering in through the bamboo blinds replaced by twilight. My father is still not home from work to prepare dinner.

I take a Diet Coke from the fridge and walk down the hall to my room, which is a good four degrees warmer than the rest of the house in the evening. Sitting on my bed, I look around at my sparse, clean bedroom. Except for a duffel bag, all the shopping bags and cardboard boxes containing my belongings are stacked in the hall, waiting to be unpacked. I slide open the closet door and find that in my absence my father has hung a large winter jacket and old work shirts on the rack. Looking underneath a shelf that I created long ago from two large bricks and a thick board worn smooth, I see exercise equipment, my father’s old soccer shoes and his old brown leather loafers that he used to wear so often. The loafers are stretched wide on account of his broad feet, are worn, and as I discover, can be easily slipped on and off. They don’t feel too uncomfortable.

© Lars Flatmo January 2009
larsflatmo at

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