Badness said: Rebecca wants me to take her picture. She wants me to take lots of pictures. She wants me to meet her at a house on the other side of town and she wants me to take naked pictures of her.
Badness said: Rebecca is going to wear some old lingerie-type stuff, frilly stuff, see-through stuff, buckles and straps and clasps and leggings and boots and things, 1920’s honeymoon stuff, and she wants me to follow her around this big empty house while she pouts and strips, from room to room.
Badness said: Her ex-step-dad has this house out on the west side. It’s empty. He keeps a suitcase there when he’s in town on business, but nobody’s there. Ever. And Rebecca and Erica are sleeping there, getting high, calling in sick to work, whatever, and so one morning they go up to the attic. We’re talking parting the cobwebs with your whole arm. We’re talking flashlights and peeled paintings. There’s an owl’s skeleton and old dolls and petrified animal shit. They find this furniture, these chests, and they start going through them. Men’s clothes, mostly. But in one they find all this sex gear. Not like dildos, but leather and veils and lace. They’ve been there a week, parading around, and now they want some company.
Badness said: I don’t want to go alone.
We had things to say to one another but couldn’t. My mother was dead and his was long gone. Our fathers had become like absent older brothers. They had hard jobs in Kentucky and dated poorly. They cried on the phone and inherited to us a shared sense of silence.
Badness and I didn’t talk about it the rest of the day. He had a photo shoot for a local Boy Scout troop raising money for shoeless kids and I had an editorial due about the Grey Lady in Willard Library. Someone had seen her. There was the strong smell of perfume and the ghost touched someone’s hair.
Rebecca opened the door, and then her robe, in the hallway. She said she wanted to get it out of the way. She reminded me of old paintings of naked women. Erica appeared. She was smoking a very short cigarette. She hugged Badness, then she hugged me. I felt her hips under her silk robe. Her skin reminded me of milk. They were both barefoot and in pancake make-up, their lips the shade of candy apples.
Badness rolled a joint. Erica made vodka greyhounds and Rebecca walked slowly around a piano in the main room, now and then stopping beside it to run her fingers over the keys. I hovered. The house was very still. It smelled empty.
I remembered when I was a kid just home from school and my brother and I had the house alone, how we’d go through our father’s drawers and slip on his rings and spray his cologne on ourselves. We found Playboys and chewing tobacco, and my first chaw made me dizzy and hot.
In the living room, I fingered a large book about North American birds. There were mirrors everywhere and the wallpaper was worn and stained.
Badness took out his camera. It was heavy and it thunked when he set it down. He said he took great pride in his equipment. I made a joke no one laughed at about freelance gynecology.
We all just kind of sat there chewing ice.
Then someone made some sort of announcement and we climbed the stairs. Everything creaked. Rooms were entered and I could hear Badness’ camera clicking through the wall.
Later, we were all four in the same bed. There was a lamp in the corner made from a shotgun. Smoke sat in the air. Erica had a magic eight-ball she shook and shook. We were boy-girl-boy-girl. Rebecca stood up and moved to the end of the bed. She was naked. She said she loved the word covet. It was her new favorite. She said it a few times in funny voices. Her hands on her hips, and something like a valley girl, don’t you just like totally covet my body? What if I had on a corset? In my corset I would, like, totally covet. Then she said it all slow and weird like the guy from ‘Sling Blade’ I been out cavortin’ in my corset, lookin’ to covet, mmm-hmm.
Then she dove back under the covers.
Our bodies seemed outlined, like lakes on a map. Everybody knew where everybody was.
Badness had his camera and it went back and forth.
Click click click click.
Rebecca rubbed Badness under the covers and snatched his camera.
Capture, she said, give me something to capture. Isn’t that what they tell models? Move your head this way. Now roll your eyes. Now smile. Close your mouth. Now look ashamed. Look naughty. Look caught. Oh don’t make that face. You always make that face. Look at me.
Under the dusty covers, in a bed that hadn’t been slept in in who knows how long, there we were.
Someone asked the magic eight-ball a question. Someone said the word virginity. Rebecca asked Badness about his first time and he lied.
Rebecca’s first time was with a boy she hardly knew. He was from Illinois and one of his eyebrows was white. She said that’s all it took. They were camping and she said she picked ticks out of her crotch for two days. Mine was boring. We wrote each other long letters. She claimed Christ as her savior. I took her for tacos and then bought condoms at K-Mart. Erica’s was with a guy whose dad owned a cement company. She said they kept knocking teeth. I joked about them doing it in wet cement and then putting down hand prints afterwards. She said they rented a movie, did it, and then he surprised her with a kitten.
So Badness told them about Floyd. Floyd was Badness’ first cat and he was tough, but he got on a trampoline with a group of kids and Floyd snapped like a stick.
I told a story about catching a frog in the garage and my brother and me dropping a brick on it until the frog turned into brown ash. My mother was alive then and when we told her what we’d done, she made us dig a hole in the yard for the frog. She made us whisper to the dirt and swear to her we were sorry.
Badness told a story of feeding pop rocks to his pet rabbit when he was little. He never wanted the rabbit in the first place. He had to share it with his sister. He wanted to kill it, he said, the minute he saw it. So the rabbit ate the pop rocks one day instead of lettuce, and it had purple juice coming out its nose and it tried to hop but instead it just...didn’t. His sister shrieked.
Badness said it was the only time his dad ever hit him. Open-palmed. In front of all the neighborhood kids. Badness cried.
We were in bed. Badness cried. And I said to no one, fucking rabbit.
M. Lewis lives next to a cemetery in Iowa. His heroes include David Yow and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson.