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May 23, 2011 by markstani

This is an excerpt of a story called ‘Basements’, from a collection called Knuckleheads by Jeff Kass. It’s reproduced with the permission of the publishers, Dzanc Books. Download the e-book for just $7.99 here. A full review is here.

MIKE D’S: We invent ourselves here, and try again when we fuck up. We are the offspring of our parents’ migrations to the suburbs and we orbit around New York City, claiming it and afraid of it. In our homes, we are moles, living for the rooms underground. We inhabit them and stake them as ours, pieces of our parents’ dreams we want to own for ourselves – the mildewed foundations of our houses. The primary piece of furniture in Mike’s basement – a bumper pool table – becomes our altar. We circle it and play the angles. The Yankees strum a symphony on a TV with a busted color tube. Everything in the game looks green. Sparky Lyle’s face looks green. Phil Rizzuto’s sports jacket. This is where the first and only hickey takes place, on a school night, on a vinyl couch with a mohair blanket. The cushions squeak. Mike D wrestles with his girl Lizette on another couch five feet away. The TV is not on and we are listening to music low on the stereo, a Jackson Browne album. The record pleads for someone to stay-ay-ay just a little bit longer in a voice squeakier than my little sister’s. Claudia, who has narrow breasts and sports a faint mustache above her upper lip, whispers, I’m going to mark you.
Her teeth poke my neck like the tines of a fork, digging bloodworms from my skin. Moonlight sifts through the window we propped open so the girls could sneak in, and Claudia unbuttons my pants and says, You’ve never done this before, have you? I lie but she doesn’t buy it. Her fingers are gentle. Lizette giggles from the other couch and I wish it were a different night, a weekend, wish there were more of us. I wish I could hear the clack and plunk of sticks and balls. I wish I could hear Johnny trash-talking and Lennie saying he’s full of shit and the underlying bass-line of green baseball games.
Everyone is too young to drive but Mike D steals his father’s car because Lizette and Claudia need to get home and nobody has money for a taxi. For our initial getaway, Mike puts the car in neutral and Lizette and I push it out of his driveway so it won’t make any noise. While this happens, Claudia urinates beneath a hedge of blooming forsythia. I’m still feeling the tattoo of her fingers and her teeth and other than during a sixth grade camping trip – when any girl who had to piss hid deep within a grove of trees with at least one other girl keeping guard – I’ve never known a female to relieve herself outside. None of us are drunk and when we hit the road we drive fourteen miles-an-hour and don’t get caught.
The graffiti Claudia leaves on my neck takes the shape of two purple welts. Mike D calls them rope burns. She lives at the bottom of a neighborhood called Battle Hill. I am not afraid to go to Battle Hill, but we don’t talk on the way to her house bceause everybody’s worried Mike will plow into another car and injure us for life. I am relieved when we drop her off at the curb. While Lizette whispers something to Mike in the front seat and touches him somewhere, Claudia stands next to the car and says to me, I’m glad I’m the one who did it. I’m glad I’m the one who cleaned your pipes.
I wonder what this means and Mike D releases the brak and nudges the car forward while Claudia’s still standing there waiting for me to repond. The rear tire rolls over her foot and she screams and screams and screams.

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