Part 12: Look At You Foolin’ You

Watch a snapshot long enough and the people start to move. Boys, girls, sand and sea agitated by muscle memory. The things they carry: heat as stain on sweaty foreheads, an orange icebox, your bicycle shorts as swim trunks, Madonna’s “Cherish” on tape-deck repeat because the video was beachy—don’t tell Ralph to change it, him only going put on Shitney Houston. We christen ourselves 21 and try on adult poses for size. First weekend getaway. First time post summer but out of school. First time with girls. First time with a girl who may or may not be fucking one of the boys.
That boy is Hughie. The girl is Fiona, not the one he talks about fucking when he is around boys, but the one his dead dad would have called a good woman. The one he’s supposed to marry. The one who will comb their children’s hair, make sure they go to Sunday school. But the future mother of his children is the mother of us all, packing cooked food to share as if we were the uncool kids who couldn’t buy hostess cupcakes. You like her, but hate the mothering, right down to the odd half-look she throws you now and then that says, soon I going to ask you how come you don’t have no girl friend. Snaphot.
Hughie, the person your age that signaled that you’re supposed to dig and do girls now. Girls were no longer a concept. You could no longer admire the admirations and desire their desires, now you had to be on naked terms beyond theory. Hugs, kisses, holding hands, horseplay were stalling tactics—wait you nuh fuck her yet? Wah you a wait for, blessed assurance? You know what to do? Yes, you know what to do, all the Swedish Porn they’re wacking off to in their own toilets are yours. But Hughie was the boy who banged a girl on a bet and won. Hughie had the woman, a woman with a real job for two years. Hughie, with the other girl who was mothering us. The one that’s in these snapshots of scenes that must mean something, otherwise why would there be a shot? Why would we stop time and pose? I need a girlfriend for the summer he said when you were all walking home one night. You had never heard of such a thing, but this must be what men should want. Rob says, you know what me like bout that girl? She did clean down there. You know how some girl don’t wash it out good? Nah man, my girl she clean it up nice. You giggle but stop when you hear how like a girl you fucking sound.
Hughie. You’re better looking, he said to you once. You know already that you could never be caught talking about a man’s looks, but you envy how he can just say it like it’s nothing. We’re back from the beach and looking in the bathroom mirror. You know how much woman just walk past you and love you? He says. You try to figure it out, the chaste life you’re supposed to lead up to 15 and the quantum leap in fuckology you’re supposed to make at 16. And even that is late. Men around you first had sex at 10 or 12, the household helper grabbing stiff but hairless cocks and telling them that they should like it. Your helper used to stick her hand down your ass but you’re not sure that’s the same thing. You’re better looking, he said, a question masquerading behind a statement—don’t you like girls?
Hughie. At the first weekend getaway he exposes himself to Andrene who laughs, neither with nor at him. Well it has to grow first, he says, and she continues laughing. Fiona needs to put up with that shit, not her. But you’re not in that conversation. You’re on the couch pretending to sleep while they talk big people things on the balcony. It’s something you do quite a bit, pretending to sleep so that people will notice you’re asleep and talk about you. You think he’s…? Hughie says and you wonder what came after, what are they talking about, why are they talking about you, until you roll over and realize that you’re imagining it. They are in big people talk, in that big people tone, striking big people poses and smoking cigarettes bought, not stolen from Daddy, on the balcony. You wonder if you should tell anyone that you still find beer bitter.
He’s the first to get married, of course. To Fiona, one sullen Saturday at the University chapel. You pledged to be part of the bridal party until you saw the rented tuxes—sky blue with ruffles and cummerbunds as if on loan from the guys who sang “Disco Inferno.” You took over music instead. They were going to sing “Endless Love” together as their vows but you play the wrong track, the one with vocals, leaving people in the church to either gasp at how well Hughie could sing, or laugh at the tackiness of lipsyncing at one’s own wedding. They move into his parent’s house. You think of adult things. Here he was, being a man, somebody who put away childish things, while you still hunted down issues of International Male and X-men. Sooner or later you would have to grow up too. The thought disturbs like nothing else does. It’s so much work. Being a periphery character in your own story. Never talk about sex. Never talk about jobs lasting more than a summer. Stand at the back when the bride throws the garter. Hang at the back with Andrene and talk about the latest issue of Fast Company. Laugh loud when somebody says, you next. Hughie makes a groom’s reply thanking Jesus for making him so happy.
Hughie opens a business. Some investment thing, again being the adult among us. He buys a car so he must be successful. Except he isn’t. The business fails as soon as it starts, but he will not work for any fucking person goddamn it and he will make it work. You remember how many things Hughie got in school, grades, girls through force of will. You’re better looking, he said to you once. Everything I have I got it by working harder than everybody else. Even his failure feels like an adult failure. Hughie gives up, leaves the business, the debts, the customers and goes to England. For a few months he fails there too. But he has child and Fiona sends baby pics. You’re in a job that reminds you of high school, meaning you’re the artsy faggy one who listens to weird people like Danzig and the receptionist tells you that at least she thinks you’re nice, even if you worship the devil.
Hughie is in England trying to make life work. He leaves his job and starts his own—doesn’t he realize yet that him not meant to be no entrepreneur? You say to Andrene when she tells you. You’ve held on to something all this time, that once you moved to a big city you could disappear into anonymity, become what you want and do what you like with nobody giving a fuck. But you know more about Hughie now than when he lived mere miles from you. News, rumour, gossip, facts. He works from home. Fiona works at the hospital. The baby stays home. Usually around midday the first boy comes over. Didn’t you know? Hughie was the best cocksucker in all of Kingston. Andrene says a man told her years before he got married. You fail so badly at not being shocked, stunned so speechless that she thinks you’re really not shocked. Oh, so you did know too? She says.
—No. I didn’t fucking know, how the fuck would I know?
—Yeah, Barry said he confronted him during bachelor party night and ask if he knew what he was getting into. He said yes, he made a few dalliances but he loves his soon to be wife and anyway, stability is what will sort him out.
—Does Fiona know? You ask. She doesn’t want to know maybe?
—Of course she must know, a woman must know.
—She moved out.

Front page image by włodi.

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Marlon James

About the Author

Marlon James was born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1970. He is the winner of the 2015 Man Booker award for his third novel, A Brief History of Seven Killings. His first novel, John Crow's Devil (Akashic Books, 2005) was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, the Commonwealth Writers Prize and was a New York Times Editors' Choice. The novel was published in the United Kingdom, Germany and Italy in 2008. His second novel, The Book of Night Women (Riverhead 2009), won the 2010 Dayton Literary Peace Prize and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, The NAACP Image Award, and The Minnesota Book Award, and was New York Magazine's third best book of the year. Marlon was Go On Girl! Book Club's 2012 Author of the year.
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Marlon James