KILLINGS AND ABDUCTION
By Tamas Dobozy
The summer of 1981 was the summer of murdered children.
The bodies had been turning up for a year in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, mainly the Vancouver area. Places like Surrey, Langley, Coquitlam, Richmond. But the killings intensified in May, June, and July of 1981. The victims were between the ages of nine and eighteen—drugged, raped, tortured, bludgeoned—some of their skulls so shattered the bones were loose behind the faces, like broken glass in a bag.
It was the summer Tamas learned to read the news. He was twelve. He went through the reports as if as if the name of the next victim was in there, somewhere in that jumble of letters, and if only he could decipher it another child might be saved—a child who might be him. But no matter how many times he scanned the paper, the letters remained lost, dead things. They didn’t show the future, they marked only where the past had ended, forever. Decades later, after what happened to Pete Boules, Tamas would regard the questions he’d brought to those articles the way you’d think of totems left before a black wall, like offerings to no god.
The boys spoke of the killer on late July nights in Port Alberni. Tamas was visiting Pete for the week. They didn’t know it then, or maybe they did, if fear can be considered knowledge, that the killer would be caught on the outskirts of town just over two weeks later, in early August, while trying to kidnap two hitchhikers. Had everyone in Port Alberni had the same premonition? It’s said you know when you’re in the presence of a psychopath, and Tamas would have that feeling in the years afterwards—in the classroom once, in a parking lot with a teenage boy, beside a redneck at a bank machine—but only one more time with that intensity. It came through loud and clear in the July dark like a transmission playing on their nerve endings.
There was another boy there, Sebastian, also visiting. He said the killer had pounded nails into the heads of the children. He probably wanted to know what it felt like, Sebastian said. He probably asked them, nail by nail, what are you feeling now? The children were screaming and thrashing, torsos buckling up and down on whatever plank he’d tied them to. Sssshhhhh. It’s okay. Tell me how it feels? Here, let’s try another one.
Tamas was tangled in his sleeping bag. He could barely make out the others in the dark, as if they were on a lake, but not a lake of water, black liquid of some kind, and they were drifting apart. All he could see were their outlines.
He laughs when they cry, muttered Sebastian. He reads them things their parents say in newspapers. How scared they are. How much they miss them. Your parents’ eyes look dead, he whispers. Like they already know you’re never coming home again.
Shut up, Sebastian, Pete said, you’re scaring Tamas. Sebastian paused a minute, gauging Pete’s threat, then continued. The killer is all there is. All that’s left is what he wants to do to you. That’s what you’ve become, what you are—whatever pain he wants to bring into this world. If he could, he’d prefer to keep you alive forever so he could keep hurting you.
There was no second warning. Pete leapt onto Sebastian. Clambering onto his chest. He grabbed the edge of the sleeping bag in both hands and held it over Sebastian’s face, elbows locked, jerking it down again and again, bearing down with all his weight, Sebastian’s feet thrashing under the covers. Shut up! Shut up! Shut up! It wasn’t until Tamas tackled him that he stopped, sobbing. Sebastian tore himself free and scrambled backwards like a crab, hand out against another attack.
After that, Mrs. Boules put the boys into separate rooms, where no doubt each of them sat awake, curled into the tight space where the mattress met a corner of the wall, or sitting on the edge of the bed in the glare of a light kept on to burn away the images—the nail in the head, the raised hammer, the crooked grin. The image of a child begging to be saved.
The next day they ate breakfast in silence, the newspaper headline writhing across the page. The questions around the killer, his acts, the narrowing investigation, seemed to Tamas written in Pete’s home that morning, and in Pete’s sleepless face, absent its lopsided smile, its joy and its bravery—filled with a fear that had not yet found its object.
But there were better parts to that July. Pete gave Tamas comic books. The old Frank Miller Daredevils, with their grainy elegance. They were already valuable by then, collector’s items. But you can have them, I’m giving them to you, because you’re my best friend, Pete said. That summer they fought wars with marbles of burgundy fruit picked from trees whose leaves flashed red when they turned in the breeze. Pete called them Japanese cherries, and they stained the sidewalk in front of his house, their clothes. Pete was always on Tamas’s side, between him the other kids. It was the summer of afternoons in Sprout Lake, Pete warning Tamas against getting water in his mouth. Beaver fever, he said. It’ll turn your guts inside out. A summer of last childhood maps, tracing paths through old-growth cedar on the edge of town, private kingdoms soon to be replaced by official charts that had none of that season’s familiarity. The summer of Pete taking Tamas to the canal and telling him about the 1964 tsunami—how it swept away the cars, trees, houses. He bought them ice cream with his paper route money, they looked at Deni Eagland’s photos of houses dropped on top of trucks, streets cracked down the middle and fallen to either side, a car tilted up on its front bumper underneath the edge of a mobile home like a ballerina in mid-pirouette. The summer they were stopped by three teenagers in a Camaro who knew Pete and wanted them to get into the backseat. They wore jeans and jean jackets, torn along the seams, tight in the ass and crotch. They had hair past their shoulders. Smoking cigarettes. We got some weed, the one who’d gotten out of the car said, four inches taller than Pete, staring down at him. No, said Pete. The driver and the guy in the back seat exchanged glances. What about your friend? Maybe he wants some. Pete dropped his backpack. What, you’re going to fight? Us? Pete stayed where he was. Not all at once, he said. The teenager laughed, but there’s no fun in it. What about your friend? Is he going to fight too? He won’t need to, Bela replied. The guy sneered, but he was slouching already, eyes drifting to one side. Tamas saw what he saw: the expression on Pete’s face, like looking through a sheet of ice at someone trapped inside but still furiously alive. Just a matter of time, the teenager said, getting back into the car. One at a time, Pete said, but afterwards he was shaking so bad he had to sit on the curb. It was the summer they ambled home in the heat, arms around each other’s shoulders, home from their victories.
Years passed. They kept in touch over the phone, once every few months. When Tamas was sixteen he returned for another summer visit, finding Pete fascinated with reruns of MASH, repeat screenings of Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket, Paths of Glory—the old romance of war blossoming on the screen in the oranges of firebombs, the cinematic reds of spilled blood, the creeping black of fade outs. Tamas would remember Brando as Kurtz, the ritual sacrifice, the ox bellowing under the knife. Otherwise, Pete was lifting weights in the basement, so muscular he looked overinflated, body parts mismatched. His father and he had been arguing. Pete wanted to join the military. Wanted to be a marine, a ranger, special forces, recon. They’d nearly come to blows over it. Mr. Boules was five-foot seven, white haired, his only weapon a laugh so unerring, so on target, it singled out faults you never knew you had. His spit crackled when he laughed. He wants to go to war, Mr. Boules said, walking in on Pete and Tamas watching Das Boot. He wants to get blown up. But he can’t even get a summer job. Fuck, Pete growled, rising from the chair. Leave us alone. But Mr. Boules didn’t show the slightest fear down there, six inches under Pete, his shoulders no wider than a wire coat hanger. He turned to Tamas. See, he’s ready to fight. Brave soldier. But he can’t even apply for university. Pete shouldered past the old man, knocking over a side table covered in plastic flowers. Mr. Boules watched him go, shaking his head.
The next night, Tamas got sick on Southern Comfort in the back of Pete’s car. Pete drove home, put him to bed, then sopped up the mess on the floorboards, hosed down the mats, sprinkled baking soda all over—not a word of resentment. He greeted Tamas’s hangover with a laugh. They’d been up on a cliff overlooking a lake, outside of town—Tamas remembered the night, stars over a distant shore, a narrow road through a tunnel of leaves. Pete said he’d kept him well back of the cliff edge. He said it was not so far from here, just over the rise, where the two girls had been picked up by the killer. Charmed, they’d said, by his intense manner, his jokes, a spirit of adventure.
Six months later, Pete was at the University of British Columbia. His parents had filled out the application forms for him. Mechanical engineering. But he’d already drifted from the courses he should have been taking, first into kinesiology, then sports history, then a course on Greco-Roman art, and finally literature, much to the alarm of Mr. Boules, who saw Arts courses as the trash heap of intellectual effort. There was verbal violence over the phone. Finally, Pete stopped calling. When he returned for summer break, he refused to move back into his room, preferring to stay in a trailer in the backyard—an Airstream Bubble, clad in high-gloss aluminum, so shiny it could barely be looked at in the sunlight—that his family had used, years ago, for summer vacations. He came in to eat, use the shower, pick up laundry. Meanwhile, the trailer filled up with books he bought by the pound from second-hand stores—Virgil, Goethe, Eliot, Yeats, Heidegger, and Pete’s favorite, Joseph Conrad, whose Nostromo, he told Tamas, he preferred to read backwards, drawn along the protagonist’s terrible journey into innocence, each layer of experience coming off like a strip of skin, back to that state where, once again, the world could do its worst. It’s corruption that dies, Pete said. Innocence kills it. Every time.
Tamas stared at him in the trailer. It was the summer of 1990. There were books everywhere—heaped on the camper table, the bench seat around it, the shiny covers shifting and slippery underfoot. If you fell, they’d close over you like dirt. Not a stone to mark your spot.
Pete was working on a book called David. He’d produced a page and a half that he read aloud that night—a rush of emotion lingering in its own poetry. Beyond that, there wasn’t much to it: a seated figure, a man, then scant light, either the first or last of the day, it was impossible to tell from the writing, only that the light was parceled out like coins. There was a tin bowl on the trailer’s stove filled with the ash of other pages, hundreds of them, the ones that had come next, failed for having departed into plot, character, specifics of time and place.
Afterwards, Pete asked Tamas to read his poetry. He read only one, recalling the visit long ago, lying on the floor, their voices whispering cruelties into the dark. Pete watched the words fly past like a dog gazing at cars on a freeway. He was complimentary, but it didn’t matter, not to the poem, which Tamas knew was bad, not least for naming the killer, but also for wondering whether the dead can still read, peering into our world for the thrill of seeing their names in print. Tamas shrugged, looked around. He had already learned the most best lesson of writing: there are things in life more important than poetry.
Pete and Tamas didn’t see each other again for many years. Pete went back to university, studying no one knew what. Once in a while a box would arrive to Tamas’s house filled with books—Yeats, Rimbaud, Eliot, Baudelaire, and a beautiful copy of Villon, French on one side, English on the other, the margins illuminated with roses and swifts. Tamas would lose that book across the years, gone to travel through other hands, but not before he’d memorized two lines someone had underlined in pencil: “My boon companions, this for you / Who make so free in every place.” He knew it was Pete. He was the only one desperate enough to deface such a beautiful book. It was as if Pete, fearing his own words, had used Villon instead, while he still could.
Tamas went through the other books not as he would later—passage by passage, refusing to go on until the page yielded itself, margins filled with a tangled handwriting he’d later strain to read—but simply by letting them drift past his eyes, taking easy pleasure or none at all, lingering on what was beautiful, then letting the music run on. The most honest reading he’d ever done.
As for Pete’s letters, they were a mess. Filled with excerpts of what he was reading, in no particular order or attribution. But Tamas recognized some of it—Lautreamont, De Sade, Nechaev, Lovecraft. Research on terror, Pete wrote, for the novel. He described days of writing—ten, eleven, twelve hours at a time. No food. Breaking only to go to the bathroom. He gathered material, he said, by walking Wreck Beach alone at night; riding the number 14 bus through the Lower East Side’s dirty carnival of junkies and prostitutes and the homeless; visiting campgrounds along the north shore in the deserted autumn, spying on the few RVs and tent-trailers still courting that cold loneliness. The novel was still stuck on page one and a half.
Then the letters stopped. Tamas would never be able to say why, exactly, he’d broken off his own correspondence, only that he’d started looking elsewhere for more rigorous information. The letters with Pete that were too high-octane, too flashy, to lead to any real literature. It was a writing that burned itself out in the correspondence, as if that’s all there was to the writing they were talking about, literary or otherwise.
Pete lingered in university another year. Tamas got reports from Mrs. Boules filtered through his mother. There’d been trouble in residence. Conflicts with other students. Pete locked himself inside his room for days, once or twice with another terrified student. Or else he was absent from campus, sometimes long as a week, nobody knew where. Security found him staggering around the western shore one February evening, wild-eyed, lost in the beach’s endless variations of gray. He was taken to a clinic, checked by medical staff, released into his own care.
There was a fear in Mrs. Boules’ reports that went beyond misadventure. Tamas imagined her wringing her hands in bed, beating back the dark with the glow of a lampshade, just as his own mother had done when he was living at home and out at night and she was worried. Always up, lights on, these mothers greeting their sons with a frown as they came in, their concern slowly squeezing them to death, or threatening to, until finally it chased them from home. Thinking this way made Tamas feel better about Pete. He was only going through what they’d all gone through.
But Pete left university that year. He was done with it. What remained was rage—at his mother for smothering him in concern, at his father for misunderstanding his ambitions, for failing to see that none of this, what was happening, was an inevitability, that the whole path had been carefully picked out by Pete himself. He hated them for letting him come home.
He was in the trailer again. The trailer had been moved to a ten-acre lot the family owned on the outskirts of Port Alberni, far from other people, anyone he could hurt. Then he was gone. Disappeared. Nobody knew where, only that he’d hitch-hiked to the ferry terminal in Nanaimo, where he was caught on security footage disembarking in Vancouver. After that, nothing.
A half year later his parents started receiving phone calls, from places always a little further south. Portland. Sacramento. Los Angeles. The calls came in late at night. They were brief. The rasp in Pete’s voice made them think he’d been sleeping in the cold. He would open with one long sentence, five minutes in length, after which he had nothing more to say, nothing to ask. His silence stretched as long as the distance between them. But it hummed with bewilderment, exhaustion, rage. He spoke of migrations south. Streetlights in Blaine Washington glowing like no other. That he could see better by night than by day. The length of the Oregon coastline measured in footsteps. Different shoes—Adidas, Nike, Reebok—their relative thickness of sole, tread design, longevity. Ten pairs, so far, he said. What I need are boots.
When his parents asked how he was getting money, they heard crickets chirping, the crash of waves, cars zooming in the distance.
He spoke of rats in the fringes of palm trees, watching them skitter down at dusk to feed on vineyards in northern California. Buskers with home-made instruments—old radiators, wire-frame lampshades, untuneable radios—humming snatches of melody. He described a shade of neon so vivid it was as if he’d picked it up and carried it on his back.
None of the conversations lasted. Pete never said hello or goodbye, he just drifted off, like the sound of the passing cars.
Later on, it was police on the other end, asking questions. Did they know a Peter Boulez? They knew a Pierre Boulez, Mr. Boules replied. French composer. The police were evasive with further information. Wrong number, I guess, they said. Later, they’d be more probing. They asked for a physical description of their son. But it didn’t match at all with the person they were looking for. When Mr. Boules asked why they were looking for him the officer said it was a police matter. They couldn’t comment on an ongoing investigation. God knows what Peter looks like now, his parents must have thought. He could have lost a hundred pounds, or have grown a beard down to his knees. Or the reverse. Fat as a god from scavenging junk food out of garbage cans. He could have shaved his head, or dyed his hair blond. He could have dressed as a woman. Lost a leg.
None of the police officers called back twice, until the end. That was when Pete was finally caught and identified, in San Ysidro, near the border with Tijuana. He’d tossed a cinderblock through a shop window. He’d done it, he said, because a gang—and he was too frightened to provide names—had taken him prisoner and forced him into criminal activities—couriering drugs, hiding weapons, acting as a lookout during robberies—and beat him up and threatened to kill him when he didn’t comply. Getting arrested had been the only way to escape.
His father drove five long days to California to get him. Pete was so thin, ribs like the rungs of a ladder. He had a beard you could twist into a scarf around his head.
He was silent in the car, not responding to questions, not to his name. When they came to a rest stop or restaurant he’d turn and gaze through the back window and begin to speak, in a rush so total, so incoherent, it was like a stampede of gibberish, making his body vibrate. All the way north the rearview mirror taunted him, until outside of Tacoma he tore it from the ceiling.
They put him back into that trailer on the outskirts. He wandered the woods, traced the track of streams, an elusive presence even to his parents when they came to visit. Sometimes he simply didn’t appear. Sometimes the trailer door was ajar, leaves and twigs on the floor, as if it had been left open for days. Mr. and Mrs. Boules searched the woods. They had a feeling he was out there, shifting from tree to tree, spying on them. If they did by chance run into him, if he didn’t know they were coming, if they snuck onto the property and up to the trailer, it wasn’t five minutes before he was shouting that he’d kill them. Then he’d destroy the nearest breakable thing: a window, a headlight on their car, a glass he was holding in his hand.
He was still bench pressing three hundred pounds, still writing the thousands of pages stuffed into closest and cupboards and drawers of the trailer. The rest littered the floor, covered in muddy footprints, or were folded into the dirt around the entrance, or even, a few of them, impaled on the branches above the trailer, shedding sentences into the passing breeze. Pete’s narrative had become endless, like a series of trap doors opening one onto another, with a thousand protagonists—the unquiet sleep of war photographers in Vietnam, political scientists tending trash fires in Central America, a woman repairing brooms used in the corridors of Suceava Prison.
Pete seemed to care about words only in the act of writing them down. He didn’t even bother to burn the pages anymore. There were no books anywhere.
Tamas and Pete met for the last time in 1992. Mrs. Boules called to say Pete had moved home again. The trailer was unlivable now. Would Tamas be interested in coming for a visit? That summer, he was working as a broke hustler in the pulp and paper mill in Powell River. It was the bottom job—shoving slabs of paper back into the pulper, feeding sheets into rollers spinning fast enough to rip off your fingers. He worked in steam rising off machines, on his feet right across the twelve-hour shifts. Sure, he’d come. He was happy for a day off.
Pete picked him up at the ferry terminal in Comox. He still had the beard, but it was closely trimmed. He still walked bow-legged like an athlete. The eyes had deadened in his head, but they weren’t completely dead yet, only hard, refusing the light. They softened at the sight of his friend.
He wondered if Pete should be driving. Once in a while he’d accelerate in response to nothing. A passing leaf. The sight of oncoming traffic. A stretch of empty road. Tamas kept bracing for the fatal twist of the steering wheel into the other lane.
Pete’s first words were a warning: Terror is not being able to find someone who you can tell what you think. The statements in your head, he continued, lifting his hands from the steering wheel and twitching them by either ear. It’s the condition of adulthood, the withholding of information. Tamas reached one hand for the steering wheel, but Pete grabbed it as they began to veer across the line.
From there, Pete recalled the last few years. He spoke of weeks spent walking south along the Amalfi coast. It sounded as if he’d transposed his misadventures in the US to some other country. He’d spent a whole night trapped on a cliff edge, the Tyrrhenian Sea frothing beneath him. He held onto the rocks until he couldn’t feel his arms. When his knees began to buckle he rammed sticks down each pant leg into the heels of his shoes. In the morning he inched his way down into the village, where they treated him like a cripple.
It reminded him, Pete said, of the time his father sent him to a boarding school in Montreal. Tamas asked when this had happened, but Pete just kept talking. He and some of the other boys had gotten into a fight with a gang from another school. He lay in a meadow afterwards in the dark, feeling the blood drip from cuts in his head. There had been a clarity to it, like a kid confronted with something sweet. Pete couldn’t remember what happened next. How he’d stood up, or if he’d been helped. The memory stopped dead.
He had no plans for the future, and recommended Tamas do the same. The future, he said, is as gone as the past. When asked if he still wrote, Pete replied, Often. When asked what he was listening to, he said there was so much he could no longer tolerate—the Doors, Rolling Stones, David Bowie—and left the answer there, in a ruin of silence. When asked if he still remembered that night, years ago, when they’d lain in the dark, speaking of the killer, Pete shook his head and said he didn’t. He had a vague memory of the smile of someone who’d gotten away with it. No, Tamas said. The killer was caught. He’s still alive. Once in a while he writes letters to the families describing what he did to their kids. He collects a pension. He uses the outrage to get himself into the news. Pete looked at Tamas and smiled, lopsided, in all his terrible freedom. He got away with it. Tamas looked at Pete as if not remembering the killer might be the worst of that killer’s work. You don’t remember Sebastian? The things he said? Hitting him? Who’s Sebastian? Pete asked, smiling out of some dark interior.
In Qualicum, they pulled into a rest stop so Tamas could pee, though what he really wanted was to climb out the back window of the men’s room and run away. When he got back to the car, he found Pete staring at the steering wheel as if he was a child again, twelve years old, not sure how to turn over the ignition. Do you have a girlfriend? he finally asked. Tamas nodded. Yes, I do. At the answer, Pete’s face assumed a cartoon expression, as it had long ago—Bugs Bunny seeing Elmer Fudd disguised as a lady rabbit. Then his face settled back to flat. There’s a woman, Pete said quietly. Works for the city. Comes by every week. Rides one of those power mowers. Cuts the grass along the sidewalk, and on the traffic island. She’s a real fox. Tamas watched his face. You should talk to her. Pete looked away. What would I say?
The road flashed ahead of them in rain, foliage spilling from ditches to either side, leaves plastered to the asphalt like an orange and gold foil.
They arrived in Port Alberni at lunch time, Pete still calm, talkative, Tamas calmer to have him out from behind the wheel. Mrs. Boules met them in the driveway, smiling at nothing, filled with nervous energy. I’m so glad to see you. Pete could really use someone to talk to him.
She fed them ravioli. But she didn’t eat, nor did she sit. She hovered at the end of the table, hands clasped, staring. Tamas and Pete looked from their forks to her and then each other.
As the meal ended she reached on top of the fridge and pulled down a document, six or seven pages, and held it to her breast. Pete pretended not to notice. He talked about a necessary disorder in libraries, especially personal libraries, one that couldn’t be brought about with shelves. Tamas nodded, but he was watching Mrs. Boules, who seemed to be waiting for a break in the monologue. Pete’s eyes flicked in her direction every other second, and then he’d speed up, the words coming faster and faster the longer she stood there clutching the papers. A floor—that’s what you need for books. Preferably one with an area rug. Uneven surfaces. Chairs, coffee tables, sofa, pillows here and there. A kind of terrain. Landscape. Hills, valleys, plains. So, you’ll know where to find the books. You’ll know the geography. Rivers, for instance, are the best places to store poetry. The dialogue had become frantic, each word another plank in a trestle he was extending, further and further, away from where his mother waited.
So many problems, she finally said. The words were tiny explosions crackling under Pete’s sentences, collapsing his diatribe into a cloud of dust. He looked at his mother. She placed the papers in front of Tamas, where his plate had been. It was an article: “The Onset of Schizophrenia in Late Adolescence: Leading Signs and Symptoms.”
I have been asking him to read this, she said. For years. Just read it. Pete glared at her. You’re interrupting, he said. You can’t just . . . His face twitched sideways, fighting off a sudden ferocity, then twitched back. Look at this, said Mrs. Boules to Tamas, ignoring Pete. She pointed to an underlined passage: In most cases the afflicted will not likely be willing to admit that what he or she is experiencing is . . . But Tamas never got a chance to finish reading it. She was already on to the next page, a paragraph marked in red that spoke of linguistic dissociation, an inability to report from the other side of schizophrenia, to articulate experience in any language other than the one supplied by the illness. She moved quickly to the next bit of underlining.
Apart from getting to his feet Pete didn’t know what to do. Tamas could smell him now, sharp as an ampoule broken under his nose. His hands were in the air, as if pushing something away. It was a silenced question, as bewildered and honest as a child denied dinner for no reason.
The old lady continued on, her tone neutral as a clinician’s. She pointed to a passage. Voices in the head. Wild paranoia. Unable to distinguish enemies from friends. A refusal to accept treatment, to swallow the pills, to reconcile with anything said. Violence, she finished, but here there was a crack in the smooth flow of her delivery. Violence, she said again, with a force so powerful Tamas felt it like gravity. They were accomplices now—Mrs. Boules and him.
Let’s go! Pete shouted. Let’s leave this place. But he was walking toward his mother. Tamas stood, caught his friend’s arm, led him to the porch off the kitchen, and turned back to Mrs. Boules. Please stop, he said. Whatever you’re doing. Please stop. Her hands fell helplessly to her sides, still holding the article. He needs to go to the hospital, she said. He needs to take his medication. I thought that if I showed you what he did, in front of him . . . Her voice faded.
Tamas stepped into the warm afternoon. Pete prowling the edges of the porch. Now we’re gone, he said. Now we’re out. The way she talks, he continued. All day every day. The eight hundred articles. Flights of fancy. The peace betwixt.
Mrs. Boules pulled back the lace curtain over the window. She was holding a plate of baking. Tamas asked Pete if there was another way inside, downstairs to his room, where they’d be left alone. But Mrs. Boules opened the door. This is the way to his room, she said. His room is this way. You can be alone there.
Tamas wanted to stay outside, but she was gripping his hand, pulling him in, her desperation equal to Pete’s. It had been ten years in the making. Watching her child being dismembered, piece by piece. Tamas wondered what that was like—trying to distinguish between the normal course of teenage rebellion and your son’s disappearance. She only wanted to hold her boy in place. In the living room she removed an awkwardly placed picture frame. There was a hole behind it, right through the gyprock. Do you see? she asked. Would a normal person do this? Tell me. Tamas shrugged, muttering about house parties he’d gone to, young men punching holes in the wall for no reason other than the doing of it. Mrs. Boules waved a hand in his face. Come. He felt oddly passive, dazed, as if he’d been drugged, letting her guide him down the stairs. There were more holes here, none of them covered. Behind them Pete stopped on the landing, facing away. Don’t do this, he whispered. Don’t do this. Don’t do this. The fist-sized holes looked strategic, like a message of dots and spaces. Mrs. Boules pointed at a door leaning against a wall, splintered and cracked where there’d once been hinges. From the landing, Pete’s rage came at them like microwaves. He was pacing, hands clenched, uttering what sounded less like recollections than warnings, fragments of time flashing up in him, scenes, incidents, occasions they’d need to avoid in order to prevent such violence, as if muttering them was enough to divert the future. But Mrs. Boules didn’t care. She kept going. Look at this. She reached into a box and pulled out the halves of a picture frame that looked as if it had been broken over a knee. Tamas looked at the box, the holes in the gyprock, the broken door, and wondered if she’d set it out this morning, like a kill room. Look at this, she continued, opening a bag filled with shards of porcelain. Herendi, she said. Inherited from my mother. With tears in her eyes, she mimed the action of stomping her feet to show how it had been broken.
Shut up! howled Pete. In an instant he was down the stairs and pinning her to the wall, shaking his mother so hard it seemed all of her would rattle loose, arms and legs and ears and eyeballs falling to the floor. His eyes were bulging in their sockets, the skin of his neck sunken beneath the cabling of muscles. Please stop doing this! he howled. He’s the only friend I have left. It was the only time, that whole day, that Pete seemed to have found the right words.
Tamas raised his hand, but didn’t know where to place it. The rage was so powerful it seemed to exclude Pete, to have absented him from himself. He was nothing more than a space where he’d once been, a vanishing so absolute there was no way to engage with it. Still Mrs. Boules spoke to her son, firing words into the emptiness. No, she shook her head. The marks you leave on us. The nights we have to call the police. The time they took your father to the hospital. The words came out stuttered with Pete shaking her. Mrs. Boules’ head flopped back and forth as if severed from her spine. I am trying to help you. But first you have to admit you need it. Tamas could hear the screech of love in what she was saying, that terrible malfunctioning engine, bludgeoning her son in a final attempt at saving him. It was an assault as brutal as anything Tamas had seen. He raised his hand, but Pete had already stopped shaking her. He was the only one who remembered me, Pete whispered. Now I’m all gone.
Tamas dropped his hand then, and Pete looked back as if his friend had been lifting a hammer. But in an instant his eyes changed, something blew through and settled in, and he let Mrs. Boules collapse onto the floor. Then Pete walked through a door off the basement hallway into his bedroom. It closed behind him like a wall.
About the Author:
Tamas Dobozy is a professor in the Department of English and Film Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University. He lives in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. He has published three books of short fiction, When X Equals Marylou, Last Notes and Other Stories, and, most recently, Siege 13: Stories, which won the 2012 Rogers Writers Trust of Canada Fiction Prize, and was shortlisted for both the Governor General’s Award: Fiction, and the 2013 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. He has published over seventy short stories in journals such as One Story, Fiction, Agni, and Granta, and won an O Henry Prize in 2011, and the Gold Medal for Fiction at the National Magazine Awards in 2014.