Words By Scott Mashlan, Art By Julian Mateus
There’s a car you fall in love with. It’s the first car you see after your friends tell you you should love cars. The car is an Iroc Z28. You know this because the name Iroc and letter Z and number 28 are printed on the rocker panel. You love everything about the lettering because the letter Z is the most badass letter in the alphabet and the word Iroc flashes like a blade. You’re told a roc is a bird, like a phoenix, and then you believe this car is not only badass. It is mythical.
Your friends love Lamborghini Countachs, Ferrari Testarossas, and Porsche 911s, but they say the Iroc’s respectable even if their cars are much faster. Your best friend suggests in private that you should love Mustangs if you’re going to love a car like the Iroc. So you look for Mustangs and when you see one you don’t like the shape as much. Nor do you like the shades like window blinds over the rearview window. You tell your best friend Mustangs can fuck off. Your best friend’s favorite car is a Lamborghini Diablo and you tell him the Diablo can fuck off too. Normally your best friend is more aggressive, but he pretends not to hear you say fuck off about the cars, and when your best friend pretends not to hear you, you feel bad.
Your friends have posters of the cars they love on their walls, but you can’t find a poster for the Z28. When you look for posters you see many Countachs and Testarossas, but no Z28s. Some of the posters have girls in swimsuits with the cars. If the car is red the girl’s swimsuit is red. If the car is red, white, and blue then the girl’s bikini is covered in stars. The girls’ hairdos are like hairdos French aristocrats wore before the French Revolution. Curling and poofed, hanging down to the V of their swimsuit backs. You can’t find a poster of your car so you buy a poster of a girl. The girl in your poster has broad pouting lips and an imprint of a nipple can be made out in the ribbing of her tank top. When your best friend sees the poster he says, “I’d fuck her, but blondes are better in bed.” You and your best friend have never fucked anybody. You imagine if the Iroc was a woman it would be a curly-haired brunette. That’s actually why you bought the poster. The girl in the poster is a girl, but if she was a car she’d be a Z28. You try to tell your best friend this. You want him to know the poster is a statement about who you are. That you aren’t just some poser fuck like your other friends—liking the same cars and girls everybody else likes. You are you. But he doesn’t understand. He tells you, “Okay.”
You and your best friend go to a car show. A Lamborghini’s on display as well as a Ferrari. The cars look tiny in person, like toys. There isn’t a Z28 at the show, but that doesn’t matter because you see Z28s driving on the street all the time. You know the Z28 isn’t small. You tease your best friend for liking such a small car like the Lamborghini. “Can’t even have sex in those cars,” you say.
He concedes without argument.
There’s something wrong with your best friend, but you don’t know what it is. You would ask, but whatever it is he might cry about, and you don’t want to deal with a crying best friend. “Hey,” you say. “You want ice cream?”
Your best friend’s dad picks you and your best friend up from the car show. He drives a Ford Taurus. The Ford Taurus looks lumpy compared to the cars from the show. You don’t know why anyone would drive a Ford Taurus. Your best friend’s shown you the calendar in his dad’s garage, of girls in swimsuits posing with toolboxes, and you don’t get how your best friend’s dad can have a calendar like that and drive a car like the Ford Taurus. You decide at that moment you will never own a car that doesn’t remind you of a sexy girl.
You mostly only see the back of your best friend’s dad’s head. This is normal. You’ve looked him in the face maybe five times in the years your best friend’s been your best friend. From the look of your best friend’s dad’s neck, hair sprouting like an untrimmed lawn, everything is fine with your best friend’s dad, even if there’s something wrong with your best friend. But then your best friend’s dad does something weird. He asks, “You guys want to rent movies?” This is weird because your best friend’s dad never takes you and your best friend to rent movies. Your best friend’s mom always does. Your best friend’s dad hates both you and your best friend’s taste in movies and everything else. “Sure,” your best friend says.
Your best friend’s mom wouldn’t let you watch scary movies, but your best friend’s dad doesn’t care. You rent Son of Warlock and Terrorvision.
As one of the movies starts, your best friend’s dad asks if you and your best friend want him to make sundaes. Your best friend says, “Yes.” But you are silent. You think your best friend’s dad is making sundaes for the same reason you suggested ice cream earlier, so your best friend won’t talk about what’s bothering him and won’t cry. You gaze at the tanned backs of your best friend’s dad’s ears and wonder what is going on. It’s then you realize your best friend’s mom is not home. You’re about to ask where she is, but you catch yourself and talk about the cars from the car show instead. “The Lamborghini’s small,” you say, “But I guess it’s probably really fast. And the doors are kinda cool.”
“When I grow up I’m going to have a Lamborghini and a Ferrari. And my girlfriend’s going to be the supermodel in the Diablo poster because I’m going to be rich,” your best friend says.
You would normally tell your best friend he’s a fucking idiot, that when he grows up he’ll be poor and live in a junkyard and have an old ugly dog he has sex with, or you would tell him about your future with your Z28s and multiple supermodel girlfriends and your helicopters, but instead you try to capture the hopefulness. “You never know,” you say.
After sundaes, your best friend’s dad asks if you want to play video games. He doesn’t want to play. He just wants to know if you and your best friend want to play. Normally you can’t play video games in the living room when he’s in the living room with you, but tonight is different. You and your best friend play baseball. Your best friend’s dad watches. He reacts to what’s happening on screen like he honestly cares. When you hit a home run he boos, but when your best friend hits a home run he says, “Get’m, kiddo.” You’ve never heard your best friend’s dad call your best friend kiddo, and the name sounds off-key when it passes his lips.
Your best friend’s dad sits in his chair by the lamp in the back of the room and drinks beer after beer with the cat in his lap. The cat is the one thing you’ve seen your best friend’s dad treat nicely before tonight. The cat purrs and kneads.
When you and your friend finish the game—you lose—you put on Son of Warlock and get into your sleeping bags on the living room floor. Pretty early on you realize this is not a film you should be watching. Your best friend looks spiritless and keeps saying, “Oh my god.” If your best friend’s mom were here she wouldn’t allow this to continue, but your best friend’s dad doesn’t say anything. The blue light from the television flashes his face like the lights from a police car. A demon flies into a woman’s apartment window and has sex with the woman. Still, he says nothing.
You’re thirsty, but you know your best friend’s dad doesn’t like you drinking their milk.
At your house you can drink whenever and whatever you want, but not here. Still, tonight seems different, so you try to coax your best friend into asking. “Do you think I could have some milk?” You whisper.
Your best friend looks at you like you’re crazy. “You know what happened last time.”
Last time your best friend was yelled at and slapped. You don’t normally get slapped at your house. “I’m really thirsty.”
“You’re thirsty?” Your best friend’s dad says. “Help yourself.”
You and your best friend go to the fridge. There is a bottle of Pepsi, milk, and juice. There are also your best friend’s dad’s beers, but you know he wasn’t talking about the beer. “Here,” your best friend hands you a beer. “For later. Hide it.” Your best friend’s never done something so crazy. You don’t know what to do with it, so you put the beer in your underwear. The cold from the aluminum bites. Your best friend does the same thing and pours you each a glass of milk.
You slide into your sleeping bag and hide the beer near your feet. You think if your best friend’s dad finds you with a beer he might slap your best friend and you. The night your best friend was slapped for the milk he cried. You’re scared of this happening again, but also excited to drink the beer with your friend after his dad goes to bed.
When you move around you worry the shifting beer may be noticed. You look behind you to see your best friend’s dad staring into the television. It doesn’t look like he’s actually watching the movie. The movie ends and you’re so scared by what you just watched that you can feel the fear in your stomach, but you put the next movie on anyway. Your best friend’s dad gets up. He says, “Don’t stay up too late.” Usually, he forces you and your best friend to bed when he goes to bed, but not tonight.
You and your best friend watch the movie and wait a long time before opening the beers. You hold your breath when you open yours. The air hisses like a siren. Your best friend holds his breath too. His beer fizzes out. You each take a sip then belch dramatically, the way you do every time you get the chance to drink beer. “That last movie was freaky,” you say. You avoid the word scary. Because you don’t want your best friend to think you’re scared. Your best friend takes a drink and answers like he’s seen his dad answer after taking a swallow. “Yeah.”
You take a drink. “This beer’s warm.”
“It’s still really good though.”
Your best friend leans back with his beer and watches the movie. This one is just as scary as the first, but with the beer you don’t feel so scared. Not because you’re drinking beer. Because just holding the beer makes you feel older. You tell yourself what you’re watching is just an image inside the TV, inside this house.
You look over and your best friend looks like his dad. Watching but not actually watching. You know the easiest thing to ask would be where’s your mom? You wouldn’t even need to ask what’s wrong? But something says you shouldn’t. Maybe it’s that watching but not watching look on your best friend’s face. Maybe it’s from seeing him cry the last time. You aren’t sure, but you don’t want to ask.
Then your best friend wakes up from staring into the screen. “Almost forgot. Check this out.” Your best friend pulls out a cassette case. In the case is a cigarette. “Let’s go smoke it on the porch,” your best friend says.
“OK,” you say. You don’t really want to smoke the cigarette on the porch, but figure you have to for your friend.
The lock clicks and the bottom of the door sweeps against the entryway berber. “C’mon,” your best friend whispers. Your best friend clicks open the latch on the screen door and the door pops. The spring extends and you hold your breath and listen for movement from your best friend’s dad’s room. Nothing then nothing then nothing. Then the cat fires out from the house.
“No.” Your best friend whimpers. The cat’s already across the street and running into darkness.
You follow your friend onto the porch. “We have to get the cat,” he says.
You picture the cat kneading your best friend’s dad’s lap, and you know he’s right.
You cross the street together. There is no traffic. Your best friend lives on a busy street, but it’s late. The stoplights are blinking yellow on the corner.
You are in only your socks, and the asphalt gravel near the curb feels sharp against your feet. You are worried about your feet, but your best friend’s already followed the cat into the darkness behind the house. The house is alongside a small apartment building that blocks the streetlight. Your best friend calls for the cat, Missy. You have cats at home, and you’re pretty sure you can catch this cat if you get the chance. You’re good at catching cats and like to impress people. The trick with cats is you can’t run at the cat. You need to approach the cat slow. Then when you are close—you grab the cat.
But you don’t get the chance. The cat isn’t in the yard. You cut through the yard behind the house to the side street. You walk down the side street whispering Missy at the shadows. You look up at the moon. The moon isn’t all the way full, but almost there. You’re a little cold, but it’s not that bad.
A few blocks down is a playground. This is about as far as your best friend thinks the cat would go. You climb up the monkey bars into the fort tower. Your best friend sits below the window opening and takes his cigarette from the cassette case. Your best friend fires up a match he took from the kitchen, better than you ever could, and lights his cigarette like a cigar. Puffing the flame off the match. He shakes the match and tosses it into the wood chips. Your best friend takes the first few drags then hands you the cigarette. The filter’s hot and mushy from your best friend’s saliva. He’s smoking too hard, and you wonder if it’s because he’s worried you and him won’t be able to find the cat and that his dad will lose his shit.
You take a couple drags then hand the cigarette back. Your body tingles like you are covered in static electricity. You pass the cigarette back and forth until it burns down to the ring by the filter. Your best friend tells you not to smoke past the ring. When you are finished you flick the cigarette into the wood chips.
“We should get back,” your best friend says.
“What about the cat?”
“The cat will be fine.”
You nod and realize your friend is not just smoking hard because of the missing cat. Maybe it’s the cigarette buzz that gives you courage enough to ask your best friend where his mom is. You aren’t scared of him crying.
Your best friend walks in front of you. The back of his ears and neck do not react.
“Gone,” your best friend says.
You don’t want to ask this question, but you feel like you have to. “Why?”
Now his neck turns down and his ears drop to a slant. “My dad.”
“Sorry,” you say. “That sucks.”
Your best friend nods. “I don’t know if she’s coming back.”
You think you might try touching your best friend, and you reach out towards him walking in front of you. You feel like a zombie with your arm outstretched, hobbling back and forth in socked feet. You brush his shoulder for a moment before the rocking in your pace separates your best friend from you.
You are coming around the corner and can just begin to see your best friend’s house when you hear a car racing down the street. The car comes fast. The pitch of acceleration on an upward incline, roaring into the moonlight. You watch the street and like a shot, the car’s in and out of the frame you see between houses. “Holy shit,” you say. “That was a Z28.”
“No. That was a Mustang,” your best friend says.
You honestly don’t know if the car was a Z28, but you’re pretty sure it wasn’t a Mustang, and if you don’t know what the car was then your best friend doesn’t know either.
Your best friend continues, “My uncle has a Mustang. So I know what they look like.” He says this sullen like granite. He sounds like he’s trying to fight you. You want to tell him he’s wrong, but you know he doesn’t want to fight you, he wants to fight his shitty life. And knowing that makes you want to reach out again. But the stoniness of his voice keeps you away. “Maybe it was.”
Your best friend pauses and exhales. “It totally was. I know it was.”
“It could’ve been.”
“You know I know what they look like. I had that poster that got ripped.”
Now you’re annoyed because you know your best friend is wrong. “It might not’ve been a Z28, but it wasn’t a fucking Mustang.” You don’t stop there. You really wanted to make him feel better but he wouldn’t let you. And now he’s acting like a bitch. You’re sick of holding back. He doesn’t get why this matters. What the Z28 says about who you are. You know what he wants and loves. And how to hurt him. “You’re never going to fuck any girls from any posters or own any cool cars.”
You feel like you’ve said enough to really crush him. And for a moment he’s quiet. Which makes you think you’ve won. But then he says, “You sound just like my dad.”
His words make you sick with fear. Sicker than the scary movies did. They make you feel like you’ve lost your best friend. You could say sorry, but you know sorry won’t be good enough. Whatever you do needs to be better than sorry.
The closer you get to your best friend’s house the more clear the front door becomes—as well as the figure standing in the opening. It’s your best friend’s father, watching you two get closer. His expression’s unreadable and he’s motionless against the black of the entryway. You get closer and closer. Approaching slow. Treating your best friend’s father like a cat hiding in a bush.
You and your best friend cross the street with yellow flashing stoplights, and again the sharp gravel bites into the pads of your feet. When you are at the foot of the stairs your best friend says, “We went after the cat.”
“The cat’s inside,” your best friend’s dad says.
Your best friend climbs the stairs and walks past his dad. Your best friend’s dad does nothing. You walk up the stairs and pass your best friend’s dad too. Passing your best friend’s dad through the doorway feels like stealing.
You think this is bad. You think he will call your parents. You think he will hit your best friend. You think you will not see your best friend again because your best friend will be grounded, and you will be grounded. Then you are inside, and your best friend’s dad goes into the kitchen.
You hear a thud. Then another. You look at your best friend, and your best friend knows you are worried about the thuds.
“He’s punching the refrigerator,” your best friend says.
The thuds continue with short rattles of glass after each one. You hope he’ll keep punching the fridge because you don’t know what your best friend’s dad could punch next.
“We should go to sleep,” he says.
Your best friend slips into his sleeping bag. You slip into yours. You lie in your bag, looking at the back of your best friend’s head and listen to the punches.