Suburban Mating Ritual
Gil has forgotten his shoes so I lend him my cross trainers but we both know that I’ve kept ‘em tethered to my Bronco’s spare tire since last summer cause the lining is tearing away and the smell has made me give up wearing socks to track practice. I didn’t have to give them to him but his bare feet would be a problem and we’re too chill to take anything seriously so I lean against the Bronco to hide the rust and to show how relaxed I am and that this is my car. The girls don’t notice Gil’s expression, cause yeah, my runners feel like old cucumbers when you put them on, and even worse, they aren’t even his old cucumbers. So I keep them looking at me with a gesture and maybe a story. The trick is to seem to not take things seriously when really we take girls seriously but not so seriously that we’ll admit it even to ourselves cause if this goes badly, if the girls wander off or never call or, even worse, answer but then a few minutes later say that they’d like to keep talking but their mother needs to keep the line open, we’re supposed to pretend that we don’t care cause we’re too chill and we’ll have the story and sometimes the story is better than the girl and there’s always a chance we can use it to fuel an evening with other girls so Gil picks up an ice block that’s already leaving a wet stain on the empty parking lot’s concrete and I put one over either shoulder, cause strength is supposed to be part of this, and I lead the way cause Danielle is at my elbow and this is good too so I bump her with my hip cause the more off-balance she is the more fun she’ll think she’s having cause I’m unexpected and this is all about being exciting while not caring and since Danielle goes to a different high school and has a boyfriend I’m playing with house cash. When we get to the top of the hill, the one that has a playground off to the right and an elementary school behind it, I maximize my nonchalance by waving off the offered towel cause I’m too chill to care about wet shorts and I sit on the ice block, the ones for which we don’t know any other use, and lift my legs and slide down the grassy slope into the dark. At least this is how it goes for a while cause my block hits a divot like it always does or I lose my balance like I always do and I tumble, ten-pounds of ice falling alongside me and I hope Danielle notices cause this is what it’s all about and I don’t lay on the grass or enjoy the cool air cause this is all about energy so I collect my block and jog uphill as Gil passes on his own block and I laugh cause he hits the same divot and tumbles and when I reach the top I offer the ice to Danielle without breathing too hard cause effortlessness is part of this too and I bet her boyfriend would breathe harder if he ran this hill and I don’t help her with the towel cause she needs to see that I don’t care what she does. Then I push her to get her started and she goes a ways and she tumbles and I laugh and then I push Gil’s girl and she goes a ways and she tumbles and I laugh and by that time Gil is back at the top and we watch the girls climb towards us and we speak of balance and then the girls are back so I go again and so does Gil and this shows we aren’t too interested, and when we tumble his block takes a bad bounce off his skull which I don’t see but I hear the thud and I hear his unchill whimper and I hope the girls don’t think he’s hurt cause being invincible is part of this too so I check on him without seeming too concerned when I really hope he isn’t hurt cause an injury leads to caring and this goes against everything we’re building here. Gil’s holding his head and I say let me see and he moves his hand and I can’t see anything cause it’s too dark so I give him the bird and ask how many fingers and he laughs and so do I which makes me feel good enough to help him up, not out of concern, but cause we’re good friends and he holds his block in his left hand and I hold mine over my head cause this is supposed to be effortless but I notice that he isn’t walking straight up the hill and isn’t walking straight at all and I tell him this and he says that he is and I tell him to suck it up and he says he is and we get to the top and Gil sits in the grass and I pray that he doesn’t hold his head in his hands cause that would give it all away, that we’re not invincible, that we care enough to get injured, but then maybe I think he should cause the light is better here and there’s something glistening on his forehead and I think I have one last run before Gil can’t hide it anymore and despite being chill, the energy will change cause toughness is part of this too, but then it’ll be up to the girls to do the math of if they want to give Gil, and by proximity myself, sympathy or if they’d like to find another pair of guys who are chill and invincible enough to not get hurt, and maybe Danielle’s boyfriend is this kind of guy, so I coax Danielle onto a block and I push her to get her started but then I don’t stop pushing cause this is unexpected. I keep my hands on her shoulders until she hits the divot and tumbles with her block and I tumble too, not because I need to, but because when we stop, I crawl alongside her and she doesn’t move, which is a good sign, and I think she’s looking at me but it’s too dark to be sure so I keep my weight on my elbow cause I’m playing that I wasn’t expecting this, cause when we get back to the top Gil will have his head in his hands and his girl will be reacting somehow so it’s best to stay here in the dark, best to put my hand on her hip, pull her close.
Patrick Kelling received his doctorate in Creative Writing from the University of Denver and is the fiction editor for the literature magazine Gambling the Aisle (www.gamblingtheaisle.com). His work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and to Best New American Voices and Best Small Fictions.