“Why do kids still make pilgrimages to Lodi just to pore over the Misfits’ old tax records and yearbooks in the public library?
– Jon DeRosa, ‘Stuck in Lodi’.
Another fan shows up at the library, the third this month. Same as all the others – combat boots, faded purple hair, walking in here as if they were walking into a chapel. They all stare at the floor in the wonder, as if to say he might have walked here. This one’s particularly bad. She runs her fingers across his name as though it was Braille. I consider telling her I actually touched him once, years ago.
I wish I could say he had that ominous, hypnotic pull about him, even back in those days. I wish I could tell you I recall the exact pallor of his vampiric skin, or the dull, prismatic sheen of his black hair. But honestly, all I remember was that he was abnormally short for his age. He looked tiny buoyed up on our overstuffed sofa, his legs awkwardly dangling inches above the floor. His ears stuck out too, delicate and pink as conch shells. Though whenever we played checkers during our play dates, he did always insist on being black.
I remember one day he handed me a pocket Swiss army knife. I recall the unexpected weight of it, the simple joy of pulling out all of the tools at once. He told me he’d swiped it from his Dad, and asked if I wanted to be blood brothers. I agreed, although I had no idea what it meant. He took the knife off me, and drew a thin red line up the pad of his index finger. He took my hand and made a matching incision. I made an effort not to yell out, I wanted to prove I wasn’t a girly girl. He touched our fingers together, and said – ‘There, now my blood is your blood.’ My Mother screamed when she found the red smudges on the checkers, and he was never invited round for a play date again.
It played havoc with Mother’s blood pressure when they started terrorising the neighbourhood. Ever since I had hit puberty, she had become convinced any boy who so much as glanced at me wanted to violate me. The thought of the local boys running rampage and hollering songs about zombies and rape was enough to finish her off. As soon as I got back from the library in the evenings, I was sent to bed. I would hear her downstairs, triple-locking the door and shutting the curtains in her brisk, military fashion. I was never allowed to see them, but I could hear them – his rich baritone over the clumsily-tuned guitars. Whenever he played the keyboard, I could picture his fingers sinking into my skin. The nights they started fires were the best. The column of orange light would appear in the crack in the curtains, bathing the room in its brilliance. I still remember the sibilance of the hissing flames, tender as a lover’s whisper, as they set the neighbourhood ablaze.
I only saw him once. I waited until Mother had gone to bed and crept downstairs. He was standing in front of the window, spectral, motionless. The dark of his hair and leather jacket bled into the night, and made his face appear to be floating in the murk. He’d blackened in his eye sockets and nose, with a line of crudely-painted teeth across his lips and cheeks. An inexplicable laugh rose in my throat – I clasped my hands over my face to stop it. But it was no use. He looked ridiculous. He spat at the window and stormed off. I watched the flames dance in the reflection of his saliva as it ran down the window. He never spoke to me again.
They moved to New York right around the time I conceded defeat in trying to sell Mother’s ramshackle old house and moved into the master bedroom. The local papers clamoured over them; a bunch of no-good hooligans. Their latest shenanigans made the front page every week. There was one picture in particular I remember, of him spitting glass in some girl’s face. The photographer had managed to capture the exact moment he had sprayed the shards into the air, flecked with his blood. They dazzled in the spotlights. The strangest thing about the shot was that the girl didn’t look in pain, or afraid- she looked enraptured. Splinters of glass and blood freckled her neck and cheeks. Looking at that picture, I could almost feel the hot prickle of the shards against my skin. I turned to the previous page- a picture of me standing proudly in front of the new bookcases in the library- and didn’t allow myself to concede envy.
I was about the same age then as this purple-haired punk in front of me today. She doesn’t even register my picture before she flicks the page and drools over the rendering of him in black and white. Some of the kids used to ask me if I knew him, I don’t get that much nowadays. I find it’s best not to bring it up. It seems unfair to tell someone their idol once played checkers with some saggy, small-town librarian.