The first week I was back in Syracuse, Pat met me at my parents’ house, where I would be living again, three months after trying very hard not to. When she first saw me, in my parents’ kitchen on day two of my prodigal return, she said: “You got fat.” She was bundled in her silver, puffy, junior-sized parka, something she had had since our sophomore year of high school, which made her look like a baking potato, wrapped in foil. I hugged her and had forgotten how small she was, how slight.
“You were supposed come back and be thin,” she said.
“I was supposed to come back?”
She opened the refrigerator and started throwing grapes in her mouth. “There aren’t fat people in punk bands, especially in New York.”
“Do we have a band?” I asked.
Pat McMahon, the other Pat, our bassist, now lived on some rehab farm outside of Utica. Our band, The Pats, was reduced to just a guitarist—Patricia R., present in the kitchen that day, who I had dated on and off since high school—and a drummer, me. That there were only two of us was a problem, but that we were in Syracuse was a bigger problem. Syracuse’s claim to music was providing the supporting loop to something called the blues belt of the northeast. We didn’t play blues, which our bassist, before heading to rehab, called the Dick Beat. We played a cleaner-sounding punk derivative of mid-seventies Iggy Pop, with a Filipina singer. This, for central New York, was quite rare.
Pat crossed her arms and squinted at me. She had this thing that she did when she wanted to look serious, a sort of crumpling up of her chin that made her lips squeeze together. It made her look older.
“You better believe it,” she said, drinking from my parents’ orange juice. “You and me, we’re a band.”
We fell into an awkward silence, waiting for the other to speak. Outside, the city’s gray light was fading, too slow to be perceptible, into a wintry dusk. I had been gone three months.
“I hear your cousin Jackie is finally a cop,” she said. He was, fresh out of the academy, like my father and his father before him. We had a few firefighters, the black sheep, but we were a police family.
“I saw him around here actually,” she said, looking aimlessly into the refrigerator. “He must be patrolling the old neighborhood.”
Which of course he would be. Between my uncle Dennis and my father, who Jackie worshipped, he would be wherever he wanted to be. He wouldn’t shy away from taking a favor like that. Once, long ago, in a spell of adolescent impulse, Jackie joined an earlier version of the band. It very quickly didn’t work out.
“You missed me,” Pat finally said, without looking up.
I did, maybe, but I didn’t want to then. I didn’t want to miss anything.
“Nope,” I said. “I didn’t miss shit.”
We hit the bars on Tip Hill and downtown, and I expected greater Syracuse to somehow be different, showing itself in a way I wasn’t able to see before I had left. I needed something to convince me I was in the right place. Something solid. An unmistakable revelation.
At Bernadette’s, Pat and I ate chicken wings and stared at the new flat screen television, without talking, as if this were the first muted football commentary we’d ever seen. At the Cove Inn, where we split a pitcher, we played darts with a competitiveness akin to gambling with great sums of money. After I won, Pat squinted at me and said, “You feel better now?”
We saw Jackie at Heffernan’s that night with the rest of the people we went to high school with. He looked thicker, stout even, and had a jarhead haircut, like a Marine. Pat and I hovered on the periphery of his conversation, like foreign agents. He was telling stories with something that approximated the seasoned wit cops have: the quick, ball-busting way my dad and my uncle Dennis talked, and the way their cop friends talked. Hey big guy this, hey big guy that. Whose dick was bigger? Whose joke had more teeth? But Jackie was out of his depth doing it, I could see it by watching him for ten seconds. He was noticeably trying, that pained look on his face—eyes bouncing around the crowd, arms in the air. Too emphatic. When people try, they can’t cover up their sweating it out. And trying takes the air out of anything. It’s something we never want to be reminded of. I thought, then, that I knew Jackie better than he knew himself.
“So Benny cuffs him,” Jackie was saying, “and we take the keys and we put all the kids in the backseat of the cruiser and don’t say a word, I mean a single word, for like five minutes—” Jackie saw me then and his face went slack. I could see the gears turning over in his head. He came over. “What’s up, squirt?” he said.
His voice was deeper and sounded like he forced it that way. He gave me one of those fake punches to the gut and then hugged me and I half expected him to tousle my hair. Pat was gone, off to the bathroom.
“Heard you were home,” he said, and I could smell vomit on his breath. I recognized a few of the guys around him, who stood there with their pints of Coors Light and looked at me like they were waiting to hear something wrong. They were cops and that was what Jackie was now.
“What, were you down there like three weeks?” Jackie said. “What happened?”
I resented that, all of these people watching, and I thought of all of the times I had beaten him up when I was a kid—grass stains, bloody noses, rubbing his face in the snow. Then I thought of him over the toilet, booting, and then I thought of all of his cop friends over the toilet, booting together. “Eh,” I said, and shrugged.
“Those girly hairs are gettin’ long,” he said, reaching out and grabbing a piece of my hair. I waved his hand away, maybe a bit too defensively. Someone behind him laughed.
“It was actually three months,” I said, louder than I expected to, and his smile disappeared. Jack and I were born ten days apart and had grown up like brothers, but by the time we were ten or eleven, despite our blood, we knew we would lead mostly separate lives from each other. He had indoor track and paintball and a naïve estimation of himself and the world. I had getting stoned and playing drums for The Pats.
By the time Pat returned from the bathroom, Jackie was telling me about all of the DWIs he had given and all the people we knew who he had stopped “just for kicks,” my mom among them.
“What’s up, Patti?” Jackie said. Pat gave him a friendly punch on the shoulder, which she always had done. She was good to my family, even when she didn’t have to be.
“So you’re on the force, huh?” she said. “Should I be worried about safety on the west end?” The cops, Jackie’s buddies, erupted, laughing behind him, and then they gave that disingenuous collective sigh, as if we were at some lame cocktail party and someone was being schmoozed.
“You should, sweetheart,” one of the cops said, loudly, over the barroom din, tipping his pint toward Jackie, or me, I couldn’t tell. He was shaved bald and had a mustache that looked like it was glued on. Pat was just nodding blankly toward him, but the guy kept talking, ribbing on Jackie: “With this guy, you really should be. He only got through the—” and then he faded out, replaced by the soundtrack for Syracuse pub on a Friday night: U2 on the radio, someone yelling from across the room, sirens in the distance. The bald cop was ribbing on Jackie, and you could see my cousin turning a little red, staring at the floor, that flaccid look of his that I’d been seeing since we were kids and waiting for all night. He was one who cracked inward, who folded, who turned mushy when the heat got turned up. People pick at that like buzzards.
“I’m just messin’ with ya,” his cop buddy finally said with a chuckle, the music fading between songs. Before Jackie could turn around to introduce us, I bent down to Pat’s ear and said, “We should probably go.”
She nodded and then waved to Jackie. “Don’t shoot yourself, Jack,” she said, and began to negotiate the crowd.
“That’s affirmative,” he said, as the guys behind him started laughing again. I gave him a little wave and started to follow Pat and then he grabbed me and gave me one of those handshake/hug combinations. He nodded toward Pat. “You gonna get some of that squirt?”
I shrugged. “I don’t think so.”
“Oh sure,” he said, winking, “You don’t think so, huh?” I backed out, waving, and watched Jackie swagger, sucked back into his half-circle of cop friends, their red mouths open, all of them grinning like dogs.
After that one night, we were so tired of bars on our side of town that we moved on. We were seeing the same faces, people who we’d graduated high school with who now had mind-numbing jobs and car payments, but who still were the same degenerates as they had always been, starting fights and pissing on people’s lawns and asking the same pointless questions: How’s the band? Fuck you. I thought you moved? Fuck you. Are you two still together? Fuck you.
So out of a lack of creativity, Pat and I returned to some of the spots we drank at in high school—parking lots, parks, dives in Baldwinsville and Liverpool where no one recognized us. One night, at a hole called the Eastwood, a place where a Filipina was so anomalous that the regulars stared, some shitbird saddled up next to Pat while I was in the bathroom and said, Are you Hawaiian? Cuz I love beaches. She was staring ahead and flicking him off when I got back, and all I caught was him saying, Honey, come on. I felt the heat rise inside of me and was drunk enough to take him outside. We didn’t speak as he followed me to the door, as if this was inevitable, something we both had to do and had been waiting for since we woke up this morning. The moment we got out, the guy threw a wild haymaker and slipped and cracked his head wide open on the ice. Out cold. He hadn’t even touched me. His blood spread quickly, black across the ice, and my tracks were bloody when we left, his unconscious moans and the cackles of barflies following us back to the car. After that one disappointing run out of the neighborhood, Pat and I stayed on the west end, and spent most of our time sitting in cars.
One night we parked my mom’s minivan behind the strip mall that used to house Village Video. Pat and I had worked there in high school and once had fooled around in the adult films room. There were only a few businesses left now, and no one coming or going at midnight on a Thursday. We sat in the car, smoking, listening to a band called Mutation Operations: overdrive guitar noise, deep bass tracks, screaming. Pat thought I’d like it and she was right. She was good at fitting music to people, especially me, and I think that’s a hard thing to be good at. We got a little buzzed, and she began giggling and grabbing at my crotch, but I insisted, as I had when I left for Brooklyn, that we were done. “Still done,” I said. We had to grow the fuck up, I told her. We were better band mates than lovers, we were too good of friends to be fucking. I had told her all of this before and she knew it. No. We were too alike. We encouraged the worst in each other.
“Fine,” she said, turning up the music. “Maybe we should go then.”
We were on the backside of the strip mall, between loading bays and enormous snow banks. In the rearview mirror I saw a police cruiser make the turn to come down the alley.
“Shit,” I said. “Five-O.”
She turned around and saw the car, which began to creep up toward us from fifty yards back, taking its time on the ice. The spotlight came on.
“There’s a gram in my purse,” Pat said.
I looked at her and she was closing her eyes and tightening her face, in that funny way she did when she was willing a situation away. “It’s a whole gram and I just got it.”
“Eat it,” I said.
She shook her head. “I’ll get sick.”
The cop was creeping closer, and the light illuminated the dash and bounced back from the rearview and lit up the whole inside of the van. It hurt my eyes. I stuffed our bottles behind the seat and popped a Tic-Tac.
“You wanna get sick or you wanna go to prison?”
“Colin, please,” she said, “It’ll burn a hole in my stomach. You gotta get us out of this.”
I hated to have to use it, but we had my dad’s name to drop, if needed, or my uncle Dennis, who was the Sergeant of Detectives in the city then. Or Jackie, I suppose. I was hoping for the cop to just read the registration, recognize the pedigree, and we could all go on with our lives. I had gotten out of parking and speeding tickets, some underage drinking, what would have been a misdemeanor assault charge, and once, in high school, a chargeable amount of pot. But we weren’t in high school anymore, and it was coke in Pat’s purse, not pot. The last thing I wanted to do was drop names.
“I’ll try,” I said. “Just hope it’s not a sheriff. Pretend we’re fucking.” Which she did. With gusto. She was small enough that she could just tuck her legs underneath her and climb across the center console. I got lost for a moment in that mix of beer-scent and perfume, her hair brushing against my neck.
“No,” I said, lifting her off me. “That’s too much. Just unbutton your shirt or something. He knows we saw him.”
I loosened my shirt and unbuttoned my pants and Pat pulled her blouse out of her jeans and messed up her hair. She took a condom out of her pocket and ripped it open and threw the package on the center console. She did this with a short laugh. It was gold, a Lifestyles, and the spotlight reflected off of it. The cop stopped. He was twenty yards behind us, and the car just sat there for a second. Then the spotlight went off.
“The fuck is that?” she said.
I don’t know why I needed her to be quiet, but I said shhhhh, shhhhh, as if the cop could hear us. Pat took a deep breath and held it in. Then the cop backed up, did a k-turn, and crept back down to the edge of the building. He just sat there, and I could see then that it was a city patrol car. After a minute, while Pat and I sat in silence, he turned the lights on and disappeared behind the corner of the building.
She exhaled, then giggled and shook her fists like she was sprinting in place. “What was that all about?” she said.
“He must’ve gotten a call,” I said, watching the side mirror.
“Maybe it’s Jackie,” I said.
“Why wouldn’t he stop then?”
“I don’t know.”
I grabbed the condom package and threw it at her. “So I’m gone a few months and now you bring condoms and coke out with you on Thursday nights?”
“Only when I want to live dangerously,” she said. She inched closer and rubbed at the fabric of my shirt. “If I’m alone with a bachelor of fine arts perhaps, the kind of man who has seen all of New York State.”
She was staring at me. I felt a warmth take over. I grabbed one of the beers from behind my seat.
“You think he’ll come back?” she said, sighing, tucking her blouse in.
Her perfume, or whatever it was, hung there—a scent—cocoa butter maybe, mixed with the smell of beer, and it brought me back to field parties and sneaking around Pat’s grandparents’ house and the feel of her legs when it was cold out. “Well, maybe we should destroy the evidence?” I said. “In case.”
She raised an eyebrow. “In case, huh? Should we reassume the fiction of secret lovers?”
“We’ll see,” I said.
We finished the gram and the rest of our beers, the music getting louder and louder, Pat growing a smirk that wouldn’t go away, the two of us passing a straw back and forth. I felt open, wide. Things were bright. Then she was on top of me, and Mutation Operations was pumping over the stereo and I didn’t care about anything. She bit my face and pulled out a chunk of my hair. It was, I suppose, inevitable, and it felt real good, clearly, to both of us, Pat leaning back against the steering wheel as if the cockpit of Ford Windstars had been especially designed for fucking your ex on a Thursday night behind a strip mall.
When I dropped Pat off at her grandparents’, she kissed my neck and said in an English accent, “Goodnight Mister Cullen, what a pleasure it was, sir, to be in your company tonight.” She did a fake curtsy with an imaginary dress and almost slipped on the ice before closing the door and giggling her way up the steps. I was lit. On my way home, I went by a cop on Genesee. The road was empty and white, and I stared ahead, suddenly nervous, and felt him watching me.
Pat and I didn’t talk on Friday, when I was supposed to be looking for a job. I stayed in bed until the afternoon, when my parents got out of work. Then I took my mom’s minivan to the mall and poured vodka and OJ in a McDonalds cup and listened to the sample CDs at Borders for a few hours. On Saturday, I went to my uncle Dennis’s with my dad and we watched Syracuse basketball play Villanova on Dennis’s enormous television.
Dennis was a widower; my Aunt Holly passed when Jackie and I were ten. He wore his dress blues to the funeral, which I always thought was weird. He was a big, sometimes quiet man, a few inches taller than me and my dad, and he had a reputation downtown as being a bruiser. Before I left, whenever Pat came over, Dennis would get drunk and ask her if she knew the people who ran China Wok on Terry Road. I felt like he was asking me to join sides, or he was telling Pat that, if she were to become a fixture in this family, she had to get used to this kind of attitude. We would usually just leave, Pat saying her piece to him on our way out the door, but one time I got in his face and told him that Holly was better off dead than living with him. I remembered my mother’s gasp, like a window shutting. I figured I could get one good crack in before he kicked the shit out of me. But my dad got in the middle of it in time and walked Dennis outside and he didn’t come back. We never talked about it again.
When I saw Dennis that night, I said, “I heard you went on a date?” He had, in fact. His first in ten years. His face went cold and he said, “I heard you’re still a wiseass punk.”
We drank and ordered pizza and when it came Dennis reminded us to pitch in while the delivery boy waited out in the cold. “Fellas,” he said, “this ain’t payin’ for itself.”
Because of his cholesterol, my dad wasn’t supposed to be eating shit or drinking or getting worked up in any way. He was supposed to stop smoking, too, and my mom had him on a short leash at home, making him eat salad and turkey burgers and checking to see if he still had his nicotine patch on. I hated Dennis even more for inviting him over.
Dad wadded up a twenty and threw it at him. “Here you go,” he said, “cheap piece of shit.” This was regular behavior between them, this level of crabby give and take. Dad would say his bit and Dennis his, and then they would sit silently and act like nothing had happened. It was exhausting to watch.
Syracuse squandered a lead halfway through the second half and Dennis, who was brooding and stroking his mustache for most of the game, stood up and started screaming at the screen. My dad joined in after it was clear we would lose and the two of them yelled at the TV together for the rest of the game. When four minutes were left and we were down by ten, my phone rang. I stepped out of the room and Dennis eyed me like I was interrupting something. He was loaded.
“Relax,” I said as I passed him. “Game’s over.”
“Prick,” he said, under his breath.
I kept walking, but I heard my dad say, “What did you say?” and then they started up again. I walked to the bathroom and closed the door.
“Hey,” Pat said.
She asked what I was doing and then she told me how she went to get a nose ring put in and forgot her ID and the guy didn’t believe that she was 21 and she swore at him in Tagalog. “I called him a motherfucker,” she said. “And he thought I was trying to explain myself. It was awesome.”
On the other side of the door, Dennis and my dad had calmed down, and I could picture them sitting in front of the television, balling up their fists. I wanted to crawl out the window.
“So,” she said, “Are you staying there all night?”
“Get some liquor and meet me at Passes in an hour.”
“What are you talking about, Passes?”
“Come on, when was the last time you were at Passes?”
“Tenth grade,” I said, and exaggerated a sigh into the receiver. “It’s ten degrees out.”
“Then bundle up,” she said, “and stop being a pussy.”
When I opened the bathroom door, I could hear Jackie in the kitchen talking to my dad. I started to walk and then caught myself and leaned against the wall and listened.
“These three mopes in a nice car,” Jackie was saying, “someone’s dad’s beemer, blastin’ that rap crap, and they’re seventeen, nervous as shit and I ask em if they noticed the red octagon about a half a block back and the kids are all confused and the one kid says ‘sir, no sir, we didn’t notice any geometrical shapes, sir’ and then me and Benny, who is about to burst, we take em outa the car and make em stand in the cold until we find three bottles of crap gin, like the kind of stuff that could take paint off, and the kid who was drivin says ‘sir, my dad must’ve left those in there, he’s gonna kill me if they’re gone.’ So Benny cuffs him and we take the keys and we put all the kids in the backseat of the cruiser and don’t say a word, I mean a single word, for like five minutes, and the kid, the one kid finally says, ‘sir, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry sir, it was ours, we got it at Colonial cuz I know the guy and that’s my dad’s car and he don’t know I have it and he’s gonna kill me, please, sir, please.’ The kid’s bawlin’, and Benny busts up laughing, and we take the gin and the cuffs off and Benny says ‘watch out for those geometric shapes, son, they’re everywhere tonight.’”
I could hear my dad laughing from the other side of the wall, the sort of laugh he made when children told him jokes. “Now you’ll just have drunks the rest of the night,” he said. “If you’re lucky.”
They had a strange relationship, my dad and Jackie, ever since we were kids. As if Jackie was tricking my dad into caring about him. He needed it. When we were twelve and Beth Lynch agreed to hold his hand at the Skate-N-Place, Jackie rushed over to my house to tell my dad all about it. He did this again when we were fourteen and he made the indoor track team, even though everyone did. All through middle school, high school, all through college. The moment OCC accepted him and then when Syracuse PD hired him, Jack rushed over to tell my dad, even though Uncle Dennis had basically rolled Jackie’s way through the academy. I wouldn’t have been surprised if he had hurried over after he lost his virginity to Alexis D’Angelo our junior year (as had most of the guys in the class of 1999, myself included) to tell my dad all about it.
If anyone was going to pop bubbles, it was Uncle Dennis, and I suppose because of that Dad pitied Jack. During high school, I began to think that Jackie was showing up just to spite me, invoking a father’s pride, however insincere; forcing my dad to say things he had no intention of saying to anyone.
I walked out and Jack was in his uniform, glowing in it.
“Serving and protecting tonight?” I said.
“Yup,” he said, and winked at me. Then my dad told him about the game and I
stood there like I was invisible.
“Awful,” my dad was saying, “just God-awful.” Uncle Dennis was still in the living room, watching the postgame.
“I was just getting going, actually,” I said, and Jackie turned around.
“You need a lift?” he said. “I’m working a double tonight, solo.”
I hesitated and looked to my dad, who looked wounded, but he nodded.
“Sure,” I said.
When we got in the patrol car, which had been running the whole time, I moved three handles of gin from the seat and put them on the floor. Jackie told me about their origins, the same story he’d told my dad, almost word for word. Then he showed me all of the gear in the cab—the radio, the spotlight, the computer. It had gotten colder out.
“Shotgun,” he said, nodding to the gun. He padded his hip. “Nine millimeter.” He raised his knee and pulled up the bottom of his pants, wet with snow. There was a small pistol with a brown handle tucked into a holster in his boot. “Twenty-two,” he said. “In case I’m disarmed.”
“In case you’re disarmed,” I said.
We started to move and the tires rumbled over the snow like percussion. “Where you headed?” he said.
“Why the hell are you going to Passes?”
“I’m just gonna meet Pat over there, and we’ll figure it out.”
“I thought he was in rehab or something,” he said.
“No,” I said. “The other Pat.”
“Ah, your special lady.”
“Not really,” I said. “But yeah, her.”
“That’s no place to take her,” he said. “Take her to Delmonico’s or Pascal’s, that’ll get ya laid. It’s freezing out.”
“It was her idea,” I said. “And is it illegal to be out in the cold Officer Cullen?” I rolled down the window and lit a cigarette. We passed a Buick full of kids on Genesee, all of them staring ahead.
“Whatever,” he said. “So what’s your plan, anyway? I mean you got this band thing, and you got Pat—“
“We’re done,” I said. “Still done.”
“Okay, then you go to New York to become some hotshot, then you come back after like a month and you’re hanging out at like, Passes, and behind Westvale Plaza.”
“That was you?”
“That was me.”
“You should’ve said hi,” I said.
“I didn’t want to know what was going on in there.”
“I was fucking Pat,” I said.
He was driving faster and between the rumble of the tires and the blast of the heaters, I felt the urge to yell. Then I felt the urge to piss him off. “We blew lines too,” I said. “Is that what you want to hear?”
He looked at me and shook his head and turned back to the wheel. The radio erupted and he held a finger up, tilting his head and listening as a man’s voice called out sequences of letters and numbers. He nodded slowly and blinked a lot, as if something sobering had just been communicated. I laughed.
“Come on with the cop shit,” I said. “Who do you think you are?”
“Who do you think you are?” he said.
I sucked at the cold air coming through the window.
“Fuck yourself, Jack. You’re a short grade above a rent-a-cop. You know this is a bullshit patrol and you wouldn’t have gotten it if Dennis wasn’t who he is. You couldn’t be a real cop. You’re a pussy. You’ve always been a pussy.”
“Fuck you, Colin,” he said. “I am good at this, and you’re a fuck-up. Always a fuck-up. You go to college and you’re a fuck-up. You go to Brooklyn and you’re a fuck-up. ” He was seething, pounding the wheel as he spoke, his spit flying into the windshield. When he stopped there was just the rumble of the tires underneath us.
“At least I know it,” I said.
I threw my cigarette out the window and he jerked the cruiser over to the side of the road. The motion sensor in front of someone’s garage came on.
“Out,” he said. “Now.”
“Fine,” I said.
I grabbed one of the bottles of gin and opened the door.
“Listen shithead,” he said, and I waited with my arm on the door, my legs deep into the snow bank. “My dad had nothing to do with this job.”
What we called Passes was Pass Arboretum, a tree sanctuary that separated Tipperary Hill from Westvale. There were all these different kinds of trees with little placards that told you the common name and the Latin, with facts about habitat and size. Behind it, past an acre or two of normal kinds of trees, was an old Ukrainian cemetery. When I was in high school, this had been the spot to be, with kids dragging kegs back there and couples making out in the woods. If you drove by in the summer with your windows down, you could hear the crowds of teenagers like a concert audience in the distance.
I was hammered already when Pat showed up, my face hot but my body shivering, mucus thick in my throat. She was bundled so tightly that I couldn’t make out the shape of her. She had a little boombox and her purse lashed to her side as she waddled through the snow. I was leaning against a headstone carved in Cyrillic.
“You look like an Eskimo,” I said and handed her the bottle.
“Eh,” she said, holding it out in front of her. “Where’d you get this crap?”
“I stole it from a cop,” I said.
“Right,” she said, and then knocked it back with both hands, dripping it on her chin. She put the boombox on the headstone and turned on a tape, more of Mutations Operations.
“I missed you,” she said. “You miss me?”
I let out a sigh and lit a cigarette and tried to wait her out. A car went by in the distance, the headlights going through the trees.
“Hello?” she said. “Did you hear me?”
“I dunno,” I said.
“Well you either did or you didn’t,” she said.
I thought I heard a car door slam, and I leaned up from the headstone and asked her what it was.
“I dunno,” she said. “I was talking to you.”
“I don’t think we should do this,” I said. “We can’t be together and I don’t think we can do the thing where we’re friends or bandmates or whatever it is.”
Her little face, bundled in the parka, went tight.
“You know,” I said.
“No, I don’t.”
I stood for a moment and waited. If I didn’t say anything then we didn’t have to keep talking. We must have waited there for ten minutes, standing and listening to whatever was coming out of the boombox. It was excruciating for the first five, her in my face, but eventually we just stood there and it slowly got more comfortable. Then two shadows appeared about twenty yards off, coming through one of the paths between headstones.
“Shhhh,” I said.
They were creaking through the snow, laughing, and carrying something big.
They weren’t cops. “Who the fuck is that?” I said, my voice low, booming. They stopped and stood in the dark.
“Andy and Chris,” one of them said.
Pat looked at me for an answer and I shrugged.
“Andy and Chris who?”
It was an Italian name and a Mc-something, and when the kid said it, it sounded like spaghetti macaroni. Pat shook her head.
“Okay,” I said.
When they got to us, they put a case of Natural Ice in the snow and took off their gloves and shook our hands. They introduced themselves: Andy, Chris, seniors at Bishop Ludden, polite enough. They wore dark puff jackets and enormous boots, and neither one wore a hat. They had the same haircut: the poof-top, heavily gelled.
“We were bored as fuck,” one of them said, the steam rising from his mouth. “And this is a wicked cool place, the dead people and shit.”
“I bet you were,” Pat said.
“Yeah,” the other one said.
“Is there supposed to be a party or something back here tonight?” Pat asked.
“Nope,” Andy or Chris said.
“Well,“ I said, hoisting the gin bottle in the air. “Welcome to the party.”
I talked to one of them, I think it was Andy, about the SU game, and Pat and the other kid talked about teachers who were still at Ludden. It was good, a peculiar feeling, being pulled back into that world. For a moment, I was envious. I envied the fact that he didn’t care about anything and he knew he didn’t have to. He relished in it.
When I asked Andy what he wanted to do when he graduated, he looked at me funny. Then I got lost in it for twenty minutes or so, listening to the noise of his voice and Pat’s and the other kid’s.
“So you come out here all the time or something?” Andy said.
“Something,” I said.
“Couldn’t you be at bars right now? I’d be at Hef’s, or somewhere.”
“I know,” I said. “You would be.” Then I began to sway, standing with an arm against the headstone, as if I had forgotten that I was drunk and just now was remembering.
“Seriously, dude,” Andy said, “Why aren’t you at the bar? It’s freezin’ out here.”
“I know man,” I said. “I know what you’re saying.”
“And the chick,” he said, “What’s-her-name, she’s into this?”
I looked over at Pat, whose giggle was carrying across the cold. She was so small she looked like she was younger than Chris.
“You got no IDs or something?”
“It’s not like that,” I said. “Some places just get in your blood, whether you like it or not. And the bars? Hef’s? It gets old seeing everyone you went to high school with, you know?”
He didn’t. Through the darkness I thought I saw him roll his eyes. Or maybe he did know but he’d heard that line too many times from too many people like me, some jackass telling him, Listen kid, your world’s really small right now.
“So you guys wanna shotgun a beer?” Andy asked.
“No,” Pat said, and waddled over and grabbed my arm. The moment she touched me I realized I wasn’t going down easy that night. The contact with someone else’s body highlighted the loss I was experiencing with my own.
“You all right?” she said. “Maybe we should get out of here, get warm or something.”
I shuffled for a moment and felt my stomach turn over. “We’re fine.”
“Are you gonna throw up?” Pat said, and suddenly hearing the feeling in my gut called a name made it worse. Chris and Andy said “oohhhh” in unison and turned away. Then I covered the headstone in one go and stepped back and watched the steam rise from the marble, from the grooves cut for letters.
A cloudy amount of time passed. From the road, cars went by, that distant growl over snow. Chris and Andy shotgunned their beer cans, their high-fives muted by their gloves. Pat just stood with me, rubbing my back, making me feel worse. Then out of the darkness ahead there were crunches in the snow and radios and flashlights. The cemetery just sort of erupted all of a sudden. Andy was saying, “Five-O! Five-O!” Lights bounced off of the trees. I ran. Pat might have said something behind me. A cop, a woman, was on me tight, all that gear rattling at her hips and the static like something wet from the radio. I could hear her breathing, suddenly heavy, and the sound of both of our steps through the snow, and then I fell. The snow stung into my face and she was standing over me, panting. I hadn’t gotten far.
“Stay,” she said. “Jesus, how old are you?”
“I’m Colin Cullen,” I said.
“I’m Deputy Berry.”
“No,” I said, and she turned me over and wrapped my arms behind me. “Colin Cullen.”
“Whatever,” she said, and locked the handcuffs.
They sat Pat on one side and the other kid, Chris, between us. They were talking about Pat’s cocaine, felony possession, and I could hear her crying on the other side of Chris. Her parka was sliding over the vinyl as she sobbed, and everything suddenly was louder. Chris said, “This is bullshit, man,” and I put my head against the cold of the window and waited.
After a few minutes of listening to the engine idle another cop pulled up. One of the sheriffs, the woman, was gone and talking to him in the middle of the road, and I could only hear the faint drone of their voices. Around us, the headstones were flashing red and blue with the lights on the cruiser. I had no idea how much time had passed. Chris was hunched over in the middle, leaning against the cage crying, and the cop in the passenger seat was doing a crossword puzzle underneath a reading light.
“Pat,” I said. Nothing.
“Pat,” I said again, “Come on.”
“What?” Her voice was raspy, exhausted.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
She kept looking straight ahead, her black hair over her eyes. “This isn’t your fault,” she said, “But fuck you anyway.”
The deputy in the passenger seat looked up at me and I rolled my eyes. He shook his head and went back to his crossword.
“Ya know,” Pat said, “You’re right. The band’s over, we’re over, all this shit is over. I’m going to jail and you’re a fuck and this is all your fault.”
I leaned back on the window and thought about running then, about how I should have been running better through the snow. How if I had been in high school, I would have been fine, running through the trees as the cops chased, everyone laughing, watching the flashlights behind us like remnants of a world we had left behind. Being chased was a game and even if you got caught, you were still better off because you were ahead of them at some point. You had tried.
Pat’s door opened all of a sudden, and the woman cop said, “Okay,”—the dome light popping on and burning my eyes. Then my door opened. I tumbled onto the snow and shot right back up and the adrenaline hit me and I took off before I could think about it, eyes wide and teary in the sudden cold, steps heavy in the snow. I heard crunching, approaching feet behind me, and I pushed harder. My legs felt like cement. I don’t know how far I made it without looking back, and then I was tackled and everything went down—the blue police lights, the flashlights on the trees, the cemetery’s marble gleaming in the cold. I felt my phone crack underneath me and the sting of jagged plastic stabbing me in the thigh. And the sudden weight of whoever was on top of me was massive, unbearable. He held me by the back of the head with a fistful of my hair, pinning me down. He rolled my face in the hard snow, back and forth, the cold stinging, and that taste—blood—like copper in my mouth. Jackie. His voice above me, laughing, was saying, “Where are you going, squirt? Where are you going?”