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Nothing is Terrible (Matthew Sharpe)


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  And then, reader, there was the morning at the end of August when Paul stood up out of his army cot, announced, "I can walk!" and took a few small, stiff-legged steps toward me, so much like an idea of a skinny, pathetic, invalid boy and so little like an actual boy that I hardly believe anymore that it happened.

Tommy was at work and Myra was out shopping. I led Paul out to the tiny hill by the fence that separated our backyard from our neighbors' backyard, where I had recently made a thrilling discovery.

"Look, Paul," I said.

"I don't see anything."

"Look down."

"What?"

"The bees."

"What bees?"

There was a fearfulness in Paul's voice that I didn't recognize.

"What are you right now?" I asked him.

"What?"

'What are you?"

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"Just, come on, say what you are."

"The sun is hurting my eyes."

I was trying to get at something: Paul's attitude at that moment was so different from the attitude of the Paul I thought I knew that I wondered if he were not offering some more advanced type of Philosophical Conundrum: let's say I cease to think or behave like the Paul you know; am I still Paul?

We stood for a moment and watched a half a dozen bees hovering above a three-inch-wide hole in the ground by the fence where the grass was thin enough that you could see the dry, pale brown dirt beneath it. I went inside the house and came back with one of Tommy's golf clubs. I escorted Paul away from this new hole in the ground in our lives. The network of hair-thin red veins seemed closer than ever to the surface of the skin of his face and his fragile, white little arms and legs. In that way, the inside of my brother was becoming the outside. I returned alone to the hole with the golf club in my hand. I shoved the golf club down inside the hole and pulled it out fast and ran away from the hole to join Paul. I made Paul lie down on his belly in the grass next to me because I thought the bees wouldn't see us that way. The air above the hole filled up with bees. I could see nothing that was behind the place where the bees were--a small place in the universe made up of the simple hatred of self-preservation. I felt as if all the bees were telling my body something. A shudder and a chill ran through my torso and limbs. I grabbed Paul and shoved myself against him and kissed his cheek. He was limp. "Hug me," I said, and he did, at first because I had told him to and then, seemingly, because he needed comforting, though it was I who had caused him to need it.

The air above the hole was thinning out. The decreasing number of bees in the sky above the hole corresponded to the subsiding of the thrill in my torso and limbs. I released Paul but he did not release me. He kissed me softly on the lips and I kissed him back, thinking it might ease the restlessness that replaced the thrill, but my mouth was indifferent to his mouth. I stood up and helped him to his feet.

"You try it now," I said.

"Try what?"

"Making the bees go crazy.

"I don't want to."

"You have to."

"Please?" he asked very weakly, the ritualistic resistance of the hopeless.

I handed him Tommy's golf club and began to escort him by the arm toward the hole. He pulled his arm away from me and walked slowly forward on his own. He looked calm now. He stood above the hole, meditating on the six or seven bees that flew around his ankles. Now there were ten. Now there were fifteen. As if he had many other things on his mind--idly, you might say--he eased the golf club down into the hole and drew it out. He stood there. He turned his head and looked at me. He smiled. I screamed at him to run.

Instead of running, he danced. It was a jazzy dance with whip-like arm moves and crazy, syncopated sidesteps. He danced around the bee hole, in honor of the bee hole. He fell down and seemed to land directly on the golf club. I thought he was shrieking because the end of the golf club had poked him in the belly. I ran to him and took him in my arms and carried him away from the hundred bees in much the same way as Myra, more slowly, had carried him night after night to and from their tender, erotic bath. I laid him down on the ground and felt but did not fully register the sharp jabs on my neck and under my arms.

"They're in my shirt," he said, as someone might complain with casual annoyance, I stubbed my toe.

I took off his shirt and brushed away the dirty yellow-and-black bees that were writhing and the ones that were already dead. He had nipples all over his body now. They protruded farther from the surface of his skin than the original two and were growing larger in circumference.

I knelt above Paul, studying him. He looked at me sweetly. "Paul, I can't breathe so well," he said.

"What should I do, Paul?"

"Just stay here with me for a while."

"Okay."

"This is not so bad."

"It isn't?"

"I'm glad Tommy and Myra aren't here. It's nice to just be alone with you."

"Yeah, it's nice."

"What are you gonna do, later tonight?" he asked, as if asking about the customs of children in a country he would never visit.

"I don't know. Have dinner."

"What else?"

"Play catch with Tommy."

"I think you should mate with Myra," he said. "It would make her feel good to have a baby to take care of."

Some of the pink bumps on Paul were connecting up with one another, making long, thick, pink fingers along the surface of his belly. He said, "I'm glad it was you, Paul."

"You're glad what was me?"

"You know."

This was his final puzzle, not a hard one. Then--at least this is the way I remember it--my brother became an idea.

 
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Excerpted from Nothing is Terrible by Matthew Sharpe. Copyright © 2000 by Matthew Sharpe. Excerpted by permission of Villard, a division of Random House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.