“What took you so goddamn long, boy?” Margene demanded. “I been calling your name since the commercial.” On the big-screen television, a perky blonde with dazzling teeth cooed about the efficacy of scented douche. Whenever Margene needed another wine cooler or wanted to empty the ashtray, she wailed for her son, Dewey, to leave his computer and assist her. He shuffled from the back of the mobile home, past all the piles of cardboard boxes lining the hall, and into the living room where Margene held court. Cigarette dangling from her lips and remote control clenched in her grip, she growled for Dewey to complete the tasks her sloth made untenable.
“I was chatting with someone,” Dewey answered.
“You shouldn’t talk to people that don’t exist.”
“Whaddya need, Mama?”
Margene was little more than a skeleton gloved inside pore-ridden flesh. Her ribs, her shoulder blades, and her hips realigned as she looked at her son. Why was it so hard to label her as frail? “The methadone ain’t kicking in like it should,” she said. “We got Xanax left, right?”
“Well, shit, take a look,” she said.
Dewey bowed his head. He couldn’t remember the last time he felt brave enough to openly glare at his anorexic, needling mother. Knowing each day brought nothing but more demands, more game shows at thundering volume, more Virginia Slims—the concept of future was too painful to contemplate.
The tiny bathroom shared a wall with the living room. While scanning the medicine cabinet, Dewey heard a huckster bark about his batch of used Fords, little kids orgasmic over fruit punch, and finally a plea for those who’d taken a growth hormone to join a class-action lawsuit.
He found the bottle of Xanax behind an empty jar of Oil of Olay. Three or four pills rattled. His reflection in the glass of the cabinet confronted him. His mouth grew long, the corners turning neither up nor down. Fat fuck, he thought. Not fat like your daddy in heaven, but give it time. It’s a slippery slope, little pig.
“Goddammit, boy!” Margene cried. “You get lost in there?”
“Just a second, Mama.”
Dewey had tricks, maneuvers to make himself more appetizing to the men he approached on the hook-up websites in his room. Most ignored him or wrote nasty replies to his lame attempts at introduction. He pressed his hand beneath his jowls, momentarily mashing his double chin. Relieved that this ruse provided hope, he cupped his hands over his two drooping pecs. No, that asshole kid down the road was right: they were bitch tits. He lifted the sagging flesh of each breast up and to the side. What if his pectorals bulged with firmness as they did in his fantasies?
There were other attempts at self-deception. It was an elaborate series of gestures, rehearsed like a stage soliloquy. In less than a half-hour, Christopher would arrive. Tall, lean, and smooth Christopher with his eight-inch cock. It had taken three weeks of explicit text messages and online chatting to convince Christopher to drive to the mobile home park outside Longview. That, and Dewey promised to provide him with an eight ball of crystal meth for the privilege of sucking that long, thick cock.
The Xanax tablets rattled in their bottle, reminding Dewey he still held it. He planned to persuade Margene to take all the pills. While he wouldn’t entertain Christopher in his bedroom, he wished to neutralize his mother to be safe. Christopher knocking on the door and waiting would allow plenty of time for Margene to humiliate her son. When Dewey offered her the pills, she stared at him as if he were a stain.
“You trying to knock me out silly, boy?” she asked, eyes narrowed to slits.
Dewey shuffled his feet, stared into a far corner. He could hide nothing from her. “Someone’s coming over,” he muttered.
“You ain’t got no friends.”
“Yes, I do.”
“You never bring ‘em here.”
“I don’t wanna bother you.” He gestured toward the television. “Judge Judy is coming on.”
Margene lit another Virginia Slim and took the Xanax bottle. “Is he one of those faggots?” she asked, her voice low and froggy, as if the word were difficult to pronounce.
“The government ain’t paying me to run some queer whorehouse, boy.”
“Take the pills, Mama. Don’t get excited.”
After more pleas to Dewey not to disgrace the Langtree family name, Margene dismissed him. He sprinted back to his bedroom and checked his cell phone for text messages. Nothing. Don’t panic, he told himself. Christopher was on his way. Maybe he didn’t text when driving. Dewey lay atop his bed knowing rest was not in his future. He’d smoked some crystal meth an hour ago. Without it, he would’ve cancelled, certain that humiliation loomed. He waited for a knock on the door.
Too wired to sleep, he went into a sort of trance, so fixated on the wheeze from the air conditioning unit outside his window, he failed to register the quick trio of knocks at the front door. Another three knocks followed. Christopher was nearly an hour late. Dewey didn’t care. He was thrilled the young man had come at all. Men had flaked on him in the past, even after his promise of crystal meth.
As Dewey dashed to the front door, he caught a glimpse of his mother motionless on the couch. Even Xanax didn’t hit that fast. Maybe it was all the wine coolers she’d guzzled since Good Morning America. If she hadn’t taken the Xanax, maybe he could sneak one himself. He didn’t want Christopher to detect his deep-rooted conviction that something would go wrong, and soon.
The vision that revealed itself once Dewey opened the creaky screen door filled the fat young man with hope. Suddenly, his sad and sordid world seemed alive with possibility, with the knowledge this gorgeous man would surrender to him as he pleased and it flattered him. Dewey had already decided he would swallow Christopher’s load if given the chance. He muttered hello, asked if Christopher had any problems finding the place. Dewey rambled about the hardships of living in the backwoods, how grateful he was for company.
“You got diarrhea of the mouth, big boy,” Christopher said, laughing. Dewey stopped at once. The biggest disappointment he’d experienced hooking up with other men was how none of them were witty and charming like in sitcoms and frothy romantic comedies. Instead, they spoke in a primitive language of veiled insults and sexual commands. Christopher, however, possessed a true wit. Better yet, he assumed Dewey must possess one, too.
“I’m sorry, cutie,” Dewey said, gripping the doorframe as if he might topple. “I always get so nervous, and my hands sweat, and it feels like I haven’t eaten in a fucking week, and—“
“How are you gonna suck my dick if you can’t stop jabbering,” Christopher said and slipped past Dewey into his home. While he passed, his hand grazed Dewey’s love handle. Dewey wasn’t sure how to interpret the gesture. This was the worst time to be reminded of his weight . . . but beautiful Christopher had touched him! The contact hadn’t repulsed him. Christopher flashed his host a megawatt grin and casually gazed about. Dewey fought the urge to drag him out the front door. Dewey, however, was too dazzled by his guest to move an inch. Of course, he’d gazed obsessively at Christopher’s array of photos on the hook-up website, especially the one of his long, smooth body utterly nude, the image cut off at his neck. Dewey marveled at any man with the discipline—and optimism—to work out.
Even though the age Christopher gave on the website was a mere twenty-two, Dewey believed his guest could pass for a high school senior. An unkempt bush of rust-colored curls drifted atop his head like low clouds at dawn. One of his eyes was a bright hazel while the other was a pale blue. He moved with the staccato rhythms of a tap dancer, all seductive excess motion. His only flaw was that his front tooth was chipped. Dewey’s own mouth was full of neglected cavities and rotting teeth stained yellow from his daily pack of Salem cigarettes. He’d lied online when Christopher asked if he smoked. He chastised himself for forgetting to gargle with Listerine before admitting Christopher.
Christopher drifted toward the living room, but kept his head tilted upward, as if waiting for Dewey to begin a proper tour. Margene let out a low grunt. Dewey prayed it wasn’t a sign her stupor was lifting.
“You don’t wanna see this dump,” he said, sliding past Christopher to block his entrance. “I set up the perfect place.”
“You put mucho effort into silly things, big boy.”
“We have the whole afternoon,” Dewey breathed.
“Actually, I only have an hour. My girlfriend needs me to pick up a dime bag. The weed they sell in Tyler is crap.” Christopher went on to explain his visit was the product of pure coincidence—and past experience. “You fat boys are expert cocksuckers,” he muttered, smiling so wide that Dewey started counting his teeth.
Too much information and too little self-worth led Dewey to panic. Christopher had stopped by for a blowjob and some dope before returning to his girlfriend and pretending her talent for sucking dick came anywhere close to Dewey’s. The host rubbed his bulging belly without realizing Christopher watched him. It didn’t matter why Christopher was here, Dewey thought. It only mattered how Dewey could please him.
“I picked up the dope this morning,” he announced.
“Is it good stuff?” Christopher asked.
“I haven’t tried it,” Dewey replied, the lie coming easily. He knew these hook-ups were games of deception and concealment. Each man wielded a carefully orchestrated image for the other’s enjoyment. There was no shame in this charade. Dewey had joined the website three years ago, not long after his twentieth birthday. His late father had bought the computer years ago hoping to interest Dewey in Tetris and other math-based video games.
“You have a pipe?” Christopher asked. “My roommate always asks all sorts of questions if I borrow his. You’re discreet, right?”
“This afternoon is just between you and me,” Dewey promised, thrilled to hear those words aloud. Finally, he summoned enough courage to physically guide Christopher toward the screen door still hanging open. He kept gentle pressure at the small of Christopher’s back, noticing how tightly his guest’s simple black T-shirt wrapped it.
“Good. I like boys who keep their traps shut,” Christopher muttered, ducking his head to avoid the doorframe. “You let some faggot suck your dick and next week the whole fucking town knows.”
“I hate guys like that,” Dewey said quickly. “I got a pipe waiting for us.”
“Where the fuck are we going?”
“There’s a trailer down the street. No one’s lived there since Mrs. Zuckerman died last month.”
The two young men walked with purpose across the mobile home park. Some of the trailers featured scattershot attempts at decoration or comfort—a wobbly wooden deck, garden gnomes with evil faces, wind chimes that hung uninspired in the still, humid afternoon. Dewey risked a glance through a particular trailer’s window as he and Christopher walked past. He wasn’t surprised Professor Pete glared back as if waiting for Dewey to see him. That morning, Dewey had struggled with his gag reflex while sucking Professor Pete’s spongy, uncircumcised cock, pubic hairs breaking off inside his mouth. Professor Pete didn’t accept cash for his dope. Dewey didn’t have the cash anyway.
What would a person think seeing him walk with gorgeous Christopher? It was silly to speculate—he knew the answer. He was guilty himself. Obviously, whenever two people knew each other, and one was far more attractive than the other, everyone knew the beautiful one held all the power. Dewey sometimes found himself tempted to invite frankly repulsive men for quick, shameful sex—he was weary of receiving pity. Every bastard who stared at him in frank disgust reminded him of Margene. She had scorned him since his father was killed instead of him on that lonely, icy interstate three years ago. (The memory of his father’s final sigh sweeping through the overturned pickup cab chilled Dewey. He’d lied when Margene had asked if his father had died instantly.)
After another minute of walking, Dewey departed from the pebble-strewn road and lumbered up the steps to a mobile home. He was tempted to glance over his shoulder and make sure Christopher hadn’t bolted. His guest, however, clomped up the stairs behind him. Dewey assured himself this man would allow Dewey to please him. I am not a freak, he told himself. I can attract a worthy man. Mama’s wrong about me. She’s wrong about everything.
“I’m gonna need to smoke a bowl or two to stay in this shithole,” Christopher announced, following Dewey into the empty mobile home. Surprisingly, it was still decorated with taste and thrift. Little touches of warmth littered the trailer: a crocheted maroon blanket folded neatly atop a sofa, bright yellow kitchen curtains allowing the afternoon sunlight, a beige cloth bag holding outdated housekeeping magazines. Nothing, however, could distract the men from the foul, pungent odor permeating each room. How long had Mrs. Zuckerman lay dead before a random relative removed her?
“Follow me,” Dewey said with forced mirth. “I’ve got the bedroom all set up.”
“This place reminds me of Grandma’s house. Man, I hate that bitch.”
“My grandma sometimes forgets my name.”
“Actually, I forgot your name, too,” Christopher admitted. “Don’t take it personal. Names aren’t really important, ya know?”
Dewey halted at the bedroom doorway. Christopher was at least talking to him. That was more than some of Dewey’s tricks managed. He convinced himself Christopher’s candor was a good thing, an indication of his comfort with his homely, heavy host. The downside of having a trick that spoke, however, was how it obligated one to speak in return.
“I’m Dewey,” he said. “Actually, it’s Dwight, but only my dad called me that. He’s dead.” He hadn’t planned to disclose his loss. The mood was already too delicate.
Christopher grinned and Dewey was reminded of the door greeter he knew from his job at Wal-Mart. He envied people, attractive or not, whose smiles compelled others to trust without reservation. Whenever Dewey smiled, people rarely returned it.
(Christopher still smiled, leaning against the doorframe, his spooky eyes alight with mischief. Men so seldom flirted with Dewey, he was ill-prepared to spot it.)
“If you can remember my name,” Christopher said, “I might let you do more than suck me off.”
Dewey giggled, a spontaneous reaction. “Dude, of course I remember your name. I wrote it on my buddy list the first time we chatted.”
“Really? I’m glad someone remembers that.”
“We chatted over an hour.”
“When I’m online, all I see are dicks and assholes.”
“Your name is Christopher,” Dewey said quietly. He risked a step toward. His guest did not withdraw in disgust. At all these tiny omens of impending success, Dewey marveled. “I don’t know your last name,” he added, glancing up into the taller man’s face. Perhaps Dewey had learned this classic submissive pose from all those black-and-white movies Margene watched after midnight. He occasionally joined her when pecking on his keyboard grew too depressing. He didn’t feel safe, however, until she passed out from wine coolers or methadone.
“Unless you’re my probation officer, last names are irrelevant.”
“Mine is Langtree.”
“Dewey Langtree.” Christopher brightened. “Maybe it should be Dwight Langtree.”
Not knowing how to respond to this oddball kindness, Dewey withdrew into the bedroom, pausing beside the crisply made bed. A quilted comforter with a floral design promised things far more genteel than what Dewey had planned. He slipped the glass pipe from his pocket then fished in the opposite one for the dope. Christopher scurried up to him when he produced the tiny baggie of white crystals.
“Some nice fat rocks in there,” Christopher said.
“That’s the cool thing about living in the sticks,” Dewey said. “The dope is so much better.”
“Do you ever sell this shit?”
“I don’t know how to be a dealer.”
“If you can count cash, there’s not much more to learn.”
Dewey gazed dumbly at the baggie he held. He and Margene certainly could use the cash. Dewey, however, possessed so little imagination he couldn’t fathom life if dealing drugs became his second career. He couldn’t imagine anything better than what fate God had coldly tossed in his lap. Margene would want him to walk two miles for more Virginia Slims once Christopher left.
Impatient, Christopher snatched both the baggie and the pipe. “I told you,” he said, “I’m on a tight schedule.”
“We won’t need to smoke it all,” Dewey said too quickly. “It’s strong stuff. You can take the rest home like I promised.” He paused. “Does your girlfriend smoke it, too?”
“I thought you hadn’t tried this.”
Dewey’s heart dropped into his stomach. He felt himself sinking onto the bed, his head bowed like a puppy gruffly disciplined for pissing inside the house. Now he knows I’m a liar, Dewey thought. Nobody likes liars. Dewey summoned the courage to glance at Christopher and was relieved to discover his guest ignoring him, too busy loading the pipe with a fat white crystal.
Dewey pretended he hadn’t been caught. To his relief, Christopher pocketed the baggie after finishing the bowl and produced a disposable lighter. Dewey watched in rapture as the immense and bright rolls of white smoke escaped his lips. He had always found it deeply erotic to watch men expel crystal meth smoke. He liked to imagine those same mouths ravenous for his own ignored cock. The last man who had sucked him off was so inept that Dewey developed a rash from the irritation.
Christopher took five hits from the pipe before offering it to Dewey, but Dewey didn’t mind. After all, Christopher was under no obligation to share. One or two of the men Dewey had serviced hadn’t shared at all. Dewey took an enormous hit, sucking on the stem until gasping for breath. He exhaled an endless procession of white smoke, and Christopher chuckled. “Damn impressive, big boy,” he said.
“I can do a lot of cool shit with my mouth.”
“Let me see that pipe again.”
They passed it back in forth, Christopher always taking more hits than Dewey on each rotation. They finished the first bowl and began another. Once that bowl was cashed, Dewey succumbed to the sensation of floating atop a jet stream, fluttering over the continent. For a moment, he forgot Christopher stood before him. The sound of a zipper opening slapped him back to reality. There was the business of the blowjob.
“Get on your knees, big boy,” Christopher said with surprising softness. “It’s what you want, right?”
“I’m an expert at getting guys off.”
“Like I said, you fat boys are the best-kept secret on the internet.”
Dewey couldn’t understand why no matter how differently his tricks behaved, the experience of sucking their dicks never changed. Soon after beginning, Dewey lost himself in a torrent of silent commands and stern warnings of how devastating it would feel to fail the man in his mouth. (There was no ecstasy until Dewey deluded himself into believing, as always, that sexual subservience all alone can bring one joy.)
Christopher actually warned him before he came. Dewey slipped the man’s erect cock from his mouth and let the semen splatter his face. Dewey excused himself and quickly washed his face in the bathroom. He didn’t want to return and find the bedroom empty, as if the encounter had occurred solely in his imagination. When he did return, he found Christopher lying on his back atop the bed. He wasn’t relaxed, though. Dewey noticed the tension in his limbs, his jaw. He dreaded this part of each encounter with a new man.
“How much longer do we have?” Dewey asked.
“I’m too lazy to look at my watch.”
“No one’s gonna come in. You’re welcome to stay.”
“Actually, would it be okay if I stayed by myself for a bit? I need to pull my shit together. That was strong dope.”
Dewey had never been discarded so gently. Typically, the men couldn’t bolt fast enough. Why did Christopher wish to stay by himself? Mrs. Zuckerman had probably died in that bed. Dewey lacked the courage to ask for an explanation. Instead, he shuffled toward the doorway. Christopher called his name. His true name, not Dewey.
“If you suck cock like that every time, no one’s gonna care you’re fat.”
Dewey couldn’t remember the last time someone complimented him with conviction. Unsure if he was smiling, his face contorted into a shape he had forgotten. His only clue was Christopher returning a grin. Dewey silently vowed to avoid the website for at least a couple of weeks. This sweet memory would surely sustain him.
“Now beat it, big boy,” Christopher said, chuckling. “You’re killing my buzz.”
Dewey trotted home, sick with possibility. All the sad, despairing homesteads didn’t deter his merriment. He felt he should hum a song, something life-affirming, but he never listened to music. Dewey’s life was a silent one, excluding Margene’s inescapable television.
His jolly mood curdled when he spotted Professor Pete glaring out his window. Typically, Dewey would’ve bowed his head and shuffled away . . . unless he needed dope. Today, however, a surge of guile overtook him. He stood firm, glared at his dealer and shot him the bird. Professor Pete narrowed his gaze. A moment later, the window was empty. The ease of his victory over that odious man stunned Dewey. The vindication mingled with the remnants of his romantic bliss. He couldn’t remember the last time entering his home hadn’t crushed him like a cigarette butt beneath a steel-toed boot.
He didn’t check on Margene before sauntering toward his bedroom. When he heard her voice ricochet through their home, it shocked him. The world had not stopped after all. It never had stopped spinning, desperate Dewey hoping enough gravity remained to anchor him.
“You fat bastard,” she brayed. “I know where you were. I know every fucking thing.”
Dewey considered slamming his door until something on television distracted her, but he couldn’t respect himself if he let that vile woman berate him for the next ten minutes. He wanted to respect himself. Maybe if he did, others would follow suit. He wanted to smile at the shoppers in Wal-Mart and smile wider still when they returned it. “It’s none of your goddamn business where I was,” he cried. He crossed to the end of the couch opposite Margene. She puffed a Virginia Slim, television remote clutched in her hand. On the screen, a portly weatherman warned about severe weather tomorrow.
“I went back to your room, boy,” she said. “I got on that damn computer you can’t live without. What pervert lets the whole world see pictures like that?”
“You can’t come in my room,” he said. “We had a deal.”
“You do things with men that Jesus don’t allow.”
“You haven’t been to church since Daddy died.”
“Don’t speak to me about that fine man. We both know what should’ve happened that day. It should’ve been your fat ass we put in the ground.”
Professor Pete was a scarecrow easily toppled compared to Margene. Dewey knew she would wear him down until his treasured moments with Christopher were too painful to recall. The horrible woman did nothing but squat on her cushioned throne and demand the world obey. Dewey was the only soul in that world. Margene opened her mouth to speak once more, hot pink lipstick staining her teeth.
“Shut your fucking pie hole, you dumb bitch!”
Margene froze, her gaze turning nervous like a predator who had targeted a superior creature in error. “What did you say, boy?”
“I said shut up, Mama.” On the television, the weatherman flirted with the pretty lead anchor. Dewey glimpsed the screen. The weatherman was nearly as big as him, and he was on fucking television. People watched and trusted him.
Margene hurled the remote at Dewey’s head, smacking him at his eyebrow. He wailed and grabbed his head. The remote clattered to the floor. He couldn’t remember the last time Margene had struck him. She was so small, so puny, she had to rely on words to smother his hope. Dewey knew what he must do. He had heard his late father mutter Dwight as they pulled out of the pharmacy, neither of them seeing the big rig headed toward them that awful day.
He grabbed the remote and smacked Margene across the face, the device making a cracking sound as it struck her jaw. The batteries popped out and fell to the floor. She raised her hand in fury and horror. “Boy,” she muttered, “I got good reason to get off this couch . . . ”
“You’re gonna die in front of that TV,” Dewey snapped.
“I need a doctor,” Margene mumbled, absently smearing blood across her forehead.
“You need a life,” her son replied. He didn’t need the excuse of answering the door after an unexpected knock to leave her in pain. It was a trio of knocks, actually. What greeted Dewey was yet another surprise in an afternoon abundant with them.
“You busy?” Christopher asked. He leaned upon the doorframe, the pose eerily similar to a classic James Dean photograph. A man of typical sexual experience would’ve recognized instantly Christopher’s intent, but Dewey was not such a man.
“I thought you had to leave,” he said.
“My girlfriend called. Typical bullshit. Don’t worry about her.”
“What do you want?” Dewey asked weakly. He was terrified whatever happened next would sour their wonderful moment before he left Mrs. Zuckerman’s bedroom. He desired Christopher, but he knew desire led to disappointment. Always.
“I’m horny again, dude. I was wondering if . . .”
From the living room, both young men heard Margene moan. Christopher’s gaze sharpened and he turned but didn’t step closer. Dewey cherished the revelation this home was now his to control. “Are you alone right now?” Christopher asked.
“Everything’s fine,” Dewey assured him. “I can handle it.”
“You haven’t got another stud waiting, do ya?”
Dewey gazed directly into Christopher’s odd, shimmering eyes. One hazel and one blue, like birthstones. “If you want me to suck you off again, spit it out.” He paused, grinned like a guilty schoolboy. “Sorry, bad choice of words.”
Christopher swallowed, his face twitching. Dewey lacked the experience to know most men lose their bearings when forced from hunter to the hunted. “You suck cock like a champ,” Christopher finally said.
Margene moaned again. Christopher’s eyes narrowed, but he said nothing. Dewey calmly followed him after he drifted outside and down the steps. Dewey left both doors wide open. A neighbor might help if Margene whimpered long enough, he guessed. Christopher required Dewey’s mouth. It was possible he would require it fairly often in the future. As they returned to Mrs. Zuckerman’s trailer, Dwight Langtree had faith Christopher would call him whatever name he desired.