THIS IS HOW WE WALK ON THE MOON
by Thomas Cooper
Every day it seems like there's one less family in the neighborhood. When I ask Ma where they've gone she only says, "Somewhere else." She's a woman of few words these days. In the morning she dresses up in one of her fancy business suits like she's about to go job hunting, but by noon she's at it with the Bloody Marys in front of the television. NASCAR's her favorite. She loves to sit and watch those cars going nowhere except around and around.I think she's still depressed about Dad. I know I am.
Maybe the neighborhood's getting her down too, all the boarded up windows and the crane with the wrecking ball at the end of the cul-de-sac. At night, its silhouette looks like a dinosaur wearing a charm necklace. You can see the landfill in the background, like the whole lousy town is hunchbacked.
Last week I saw two bums dragging a six-foot lemon shark through the street in front of our house. To eat, to sell, I didn't ask.
Some days Darcy meets me under the bridge and we drink stolen Hamm's and fool around. Other days she doesn't. Today is one of those days. Darcy's seventeen, a year older than me, and acts as if this makes her more busy and important than everybody else. I sit on the edge of the seawall and wait with my feet dangling. The water's the color of tobacco spit and parrotfish nibble on the barnacled pilings. It's summer and the heat sticks like glue to my skin.
On the way home I spot an old organ by the side of the road but Darcy's beat me to it. You'd be surprised what people leave behind. In the last month I've found a record turntable, a ukulele, a box set of Dale Carnegie's collected works.
Darcy's shoving the organ with her shoulder, but it's going nowhere. I join in beside her and push. Pretty soon we're wheeling the thing down the street and people are staring from their porches.
"Where you been?" I ask, like I couldn't care less. It's been five days, to be exact.
"Here and there," she says, like she couldn't care less either.
"Are you pregnant?" I ask, joking, because it's highly unlikely I've gotten her pregnant with my fingers. Unless she's been screwing around with some other dude, which I hope not.
"Maybe," she says. "Probably."
"You even know how to play the organ?"
"You're a comedic genius," she says, though I was serious.
Everything's a joke with us. Sometimes I wish it weren't.
We push uphill past the park and over the intracoastal bridge, cars honking and drivers shouting. One dude cranks down his pickup window and calls us fucking imbeciles. Darcy's face is all red and sweaty, wild gypsy hair sticking up everywhere. I can see her pointy boobs poking under her t-shirt and I try not to stare.
In her house we plug the organ into her bedroom wall but all that comes out is a low groan like a dying hippopotamus.
"You want this organ?" she asks.
"You want this one?" I say.
She rolls her eyes and doesn't smile.
I tell her to meet me at the dump tonight because she loves the dump. It's her favorite place. It's my least favorite. Not only because it smells like the asshole of the universe, but because we were both there the day my dad died. I didn't know he was dead at the time. I found out later when I got home and found my mom crying.
That was the same day the space shuttle exploded. Darcy and I stood on top of a junkheap and held each other as we watched the fireball light up the sky, brighter than the sun. Afterward they made a big deal about it at school. "Who cares?" I said in the middle of some kid's weepy report and people looked at me like I was the antichrist. I was suspended for a week.
Now Darcy shrugs and tells me she'll probably be busy. Then I shrug and say I'll take my chances.
That night it doesn't seem like she'll show but then I hear someone scuffing in the late night quiet, up the steep limestone road. Darcy, two-fingering the rings of a half-finished six-pack. I've brought my own and I'm already a little crocked. We sit thigh-to-thigh on a bashed-up refrigerator and kiss for a while. There's a moony glow over everything and we're so high up that the city lights seem like we're looking down on stars. Darcy tells me her big news, that she's leaving at the end of the summer. College. I say big fucking deal and kiss her harder, as if my least favorite place on earth hasn't just become worse. When I close my eyes, it feels a little like falling. When I close my eyes, it almost feels like I could be as far away as the moon.
Thomas Cooper's fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Oxford American, Willow Springs, New Orleans Review, Sonora Review, Memorious, Quick Fiction, and others. He lives in New Orleans. www.thomascooper.squarespace.com