Welcome to #FutureLitDarlings, a series dedicated to authors I (in my personal opinion) are really writing amazing, unique stuff. How it works: I call out a handful of authors, ones that might not get as much attention in and around various lit circles as they should, be it because they are new or simply underrepresented; the authors named are given a week to send me some writing to feature in subsequent posts here, on ENCLAVE. Simple and encouraging–as is my hope. The end result, ideally, is for this to be a continual showcase championing the depth and vibrancy of our community.
The first callout consisted of Matthew Bookin, Lauren Hilger, Frankie Zelnick, Elle Nash, Len Kuntz, Jordaan Mason, and Nadia de Vries.
First to reply was Len Kuntz, and therefore, this post is dedicated to Kuntz and his unique brand of fiction. Have a look, you’ll see that he’s onto something exciting. We’re coping. –Michael J Seidlinger
The Other Kids
People stare at us. They always do.
When I lurch at a gawking granny near Ivar’s, she shrieks, then calls Ruby and me animals.
It’s raining big, fat-assed drops the size of coins. Just started pouring. I didn’t bring a hat for Ruby, so I take my jacket and stuff it around her crooked neck and head. She flaps an arm at me, maybe protesting, but I say, “I’m fine. I’m part-fish, part-salmon.”
Business is worse when it rains, but if you only go out on nice days, you’d starve.
Ruby’s wheelchair has a wobble to it. Last week something got busted when we had to take a curb.
I pull the sign out, the Folgers Coffee can and set them at Ruby’s feet. It rains harder. Might be a short day.
Our spot is off the pier by The Ferris Wheel. A better place would be uptown, around Nordstrom, but it’s a bitch—nearly impossible—wheeling Ruby up and down those hills.
The accident that killed our parents and damaged Ruby happened a long time ago. Afterward, I was sent to a Foster Home and Ruby to a place that cares for the brain-dead. When I got old enough, I fled, found Ruby and got her the hell away. Even though things are hard, it was the best decision I’ve ever made.
Here comes Isaac a few blocks away. I can tell from the way he walks–with a side-to-side sash shay—that he’s packing.
Ruby and I beg, but we soon learned we needed something to sell, so now it’s drugs, mostly pills and pot that Isaac brings us. I never ask where he gets the stuff and he never says.
Isaac’s coiled hair is rust-colored but brighter, the shade of Doritos. “Where’s your jacket?”
I point to Ruby. She’s crumpled in her chair, neck invisible, her head a contorted skull wearing skin.
I remember when my twin was young, how she liked to put Mom’s makeup on dolls, set up parties where the dolls traded secrets.
“Man, you’re a piece of work,” Isaac says. He always tells me this, like I’m a fuck-up or a genius, I can never tell which.
He takes off the enormous puffy jacket he’s wearing–there’s a smaller one underneath–and gives it to me.
“Yeah. Pockets are full.”
When I put it on, I feel the baggies in each pocket—one stuffed with pills, the other a wad of dope.
“You really gonna hang out here,” Isaac asks, “getting pissed on all day?”
“A man’s gotta make a living.”
He looks at Ruby, just for a split second, then back at me. There’s something in his face that I can’t get a hold on. He won’t stop staring, so I look away. “A piece of work,” he says, “that’s what you are.”
I watch Isaac disappear down the street, swallowed up by a swath of fog coming off Elliot Bay and burying Cutters.
“Hey, Rube,” I say, squatting down beside my sis, “know what today is?”
Her eyes slide and roll, but that could be anything.
“It’s our birthday. We’re seventeen.” I finally get a cigarette lit and the burn is the best feeling. If Ruby were right, she’d never let me smoke. She’d be the boss. We’d both be in school, but she’d be the one getting the good grades.
“I thought we’d celebrate tonight. You know, get dinner at someplace nice.”
In my mind I hear her say, “But not too expensive. We have to start saving for college.” In my mind, Ruby’s five foot eight, an athlete, a gymnast maybe.
I hear Ruby say, “Maybe we should stop selling drugs, get a real job.”
“How’s that going to work?”
“A real job. That’s what people do–people who aren’t criminals.”
“What place is going to let me bring you along?”
“Then a work-from-home job.”
“We don’t even own a computer.”
“Stop being such a downer.”
I don’t really remember our parents. I think Mom might have been pretty or a little plump. Dad could have been smoke. I have no idea where I was that day, why I wasn’t in the car with them all.
I’ve blocked out a lot of things, but before the accident, back when I still went to school, a counselor came in one week and tried to teach us about depression because the older sister of our classmate had killed herself. The counselor said we shouldn’t feel guilty, which confused me and made me feel guilty. She said there are symptoms, but people work overtime to hide any clues. I didn’t know the kid, but I did find out about him later. Levon Merrick. Died on June 26th. He was fourteen years two months and six days old. His parents owned a plumbing business. People interviewed said Levon was nice enough. In the newspaper photo, Levon looked humdrum, nothing tortured, nothing special.
What would it take to make a kid kill himself? I wonder that every day. If anyone should want to die, it’s Ruby, but then she probably doesn’t even know she wants to die.
I wiggle her chin. “You’re a cutie patootie,” I say.
My first customer of the day is a jackass. He haggles over the price and for some reason I come down. “Pussy,” he says, waddling away.
The rain lets up, and a screen of sun fights its way through cloud cover and sure enough there it is, a double-rainbow over the bay, or at least a broken-off arc of one. The colors remind me of candy, jelly beans and LifeSavers. I wonder where the rainbow starts and where it ends, the exact spots. I wonder who else is noticing.
I swivel Ruby around so she can see. “Check it out. That’s actually a double-rainbow, parts of one. You don’t see that every day.”
The next customer comes up on me so fast I can only feel the wind of his movements and I think, This is it, I’m going to get mugged, first time for everything.
Only he’s just jumpy, amped up. He’s got a rash running down his face and his teeth are tea-colored. He asks what I’ve got. I say, “What’d you need?”
I have it. I give him a price. He pays. And that’s when the handcuffs come out, like a steel whip, and my arms are lashed together behind my back and I’m shackled.
“You’re a fucking cop?”
When he smacks my head, I hear bees in a jar.
He leads me away, starts reading me my rights. Ruby’s watching or she isn’t. I don’t hear her say, “Told you so.”
“But that’s my sister. I take care of her.”
“Not anymore you don’t.”
Sirens and squad cars show up, a van with a hydraulic shelf to lift Ruby. They’ve been casing us for a while now.
“There’s certain things she needs,” I plead, but no one’s listening.
I scream Ruby’s name.
As the police car pulls away, I crane my neck. The rainbow’s still there, all of it now. It’s beaten the clouds, it’s won, and maybe it’s wrong to believe it, but I think I can, too.
Len Kuntz is a writer from Washington state and an editor at the online magazine Literary Orphans. His story collection, “The Dark Sunshine” debuted at Connotation Press last year. You can also find him at lenkuntz.BlogSpot.com