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issue 30: May-June 2002 

 | author bio | tbr review of My Loose Thread

Boys will be boys. picture by MGS   Extract from
My Loose Thread
Dennis Cooper

2

       

 I'm at breakfast. It's always something easy to make like a cold cereal. Dad watches taped golf from the weekend, and my mom reads the paper. Something in her is going off about me. I can see it's not the world. Jim's food is already a ruin, which is the only thing wrong.
      "Jim rode his bike," she says. Not hello, or anything. That's news, since I always drive him to school.
      "Yeah?"
      She turns a page fast, and it rips. But I'm tired enough from one or maybe two hour's sleep, that her shit doesn't reach me.
      "Say it, mom."
      "Your dad had a cramp, and I was up, and I saw you," she says.
      "Meaning what?" I'm pretty sure I was naked, and holding my clothes and my shoes in a wad.
      "I called Dr. Thorne," she says.
      "What did Jim say?"
      "He protected you," she says.
      "From what?" I throw my cereal bowl at the wall.


      I think Rand is still on the floor of my bedroom. I mean in some way. I know he didn't die there. He got up after a couple of minutes, and left. But I think he'd come there if he could go anywhere. That's the Franks' big idea, or their excuse. The dead don't want to be dead, and they only give a shit about life. When I got back to my bedroom last night, I thought a lot about Rand, then decided. I killed the boy because I can't kill myself. That's why I hit him so hard. I realize he isn't Jim. When I get that upset, it doesn't take much to remind me.


      I always hang out with Will. Sometimes Tran is there, too. They're what's left of my friends. Everyone else thinks I'm cold. Will and Tran are so into themselves, they don't notice. We like to watch the other students show up, and talk angrily about them. It's mostly Will. They're still too sleepy to hate us. When they do, I'll definitely feel it. It usually takes until lunch.
      "I didn't sleep." Will's noticed something in me, but that'll probably do it. He used to go out with Jude, which is our mutual thing.
      "Her again?" he says.
      "Yeah."
      "So surprising," Tran says. He's a mistake I almost made five or six times when I used to get drunk. As friends, we're all figured out and boring.
      "Did you hear about the freak?" Will says. He means the boy, and I'm the one who started calling him that. He was just Jim's weirdest friend at the time.
      "What about him?"
      "He's been going to Gilman's meetings," Will says.
      I look at Tran. So if I react to the news, they'll misinterpret. I told Will I hate Tran, and Tran thinks he knows me. It's complicated. "That's weird."
      "Seriously, what's up with you?" Will says.
      "What does it seem like?"
      Tran gives me this look. It would be hard to describe. He tries it out on me every few days. If I give it back, we're both probably dead.


      I gave Tran the look, but I was going for spaced. I can't be sure it wasn't in there somewhere. His dad's white, and there's not that much bug in his face. That might just be it. He used to mix me up when I was drunk and confused about whether I missed Jim or not. But nothing ever happened. We're walking to Algebra class, and every glance I give him is a warning. That's how I see it.
      "What time?" Tran says. It means should he come by my house. He sounds cold but isn't, which is our usual mutual thing. I just shrug. It doesn't matter when.
      "It's been a while," he says. He means since I've wanted to be around him without Will. That's how backwardly he understands me.
      "Too long."
      "You're so strange," he says. I just felt him bump against me. That's pushing it. We're in fucking public. He's not there yet, if ever. It'll take concentration or beer.
      "Don't be stupid."


      After Rand died, I was drunk for a month, even at school. People I didn't already know thought it was tragic, and left me alone. The things with Tran and Pete started then. It had been building, and I'd just let anything happen. Tran was a bug who kept looking at me, and Pete was a popular guy who'd turned into a drunk for some reason. I thought drunkenness would be my life. I thought not questioning things before I said them was telling the truth. I thought if someone was nice to me when I was drunk, he was gay. I thought if I liked someone when I was drunk, I was gay. When I was drunk, I'd do anything not to have hit Rand.


      School tends to go one of two ways in the mornings. People's hatred for me is still vague and wearing off, unless I push it. That's one way. Or it's
      just about the teachers and me, and preparing for what's going to happen at lunch, and maybe something with Jude after school. Today I just want to find Pete, and avoid Gilman Crowe in the halls. That's my major worry, but he's nowhere around. No one brings up the boy's empty desks in the classes we shared. He's just some black shit in the ground, and that was happening with or without me. Or that's what I've decided his notebook is really about.


      I put my arm around Jude. Most students eat lunch in groups of two up to eight on the grass. It's like a park. Otherwise, you eat on benches around the park's edge facing them like an audience. That's just safer.
      "You allright?"
      "Jesus, Larry," she says. 'No, for a million reasons."
      "Check this out
      "I can't take it," she says, and shrugs until I've taken my arm off her shoulders.
      "I'm not gay."
      "What?" she says, and laughs. She's started to look to her left and my right.
      "I know it now. And you want to know why?"
      "You're so fucked up," she says. "It scares me."
      Gilman's talking to Pete, who looks drunk. It's the wobble. When he gets drunk enough, he'll say or do anything. That's the rumor. They're standing next to the wall where the school's insignia is painted. It's gigantic and very bleached out. It is or was a bulldog.
      "It's just Jim. That's all."
      "What?" Jude says. She was busy with Pete. "What are you talking about?"
      "Jim's the one who's gay."
      "Yeah," she says sarcastically. "That's got to be it."
      I hear Pete yell. By the time I look over, Gilman's already gone, and Pete is looking at us or just Jude. I guess no one noticed me here until they followed his eyes. Now I can feel their mean, snickering bullshit.
      "Can I come by later?" I've gotten to my feet. They'll stop turning into assholes as soon as I'm gone, or I won't know it at least. I mean it's not about Jude.
      "Yeah," she says. "I guess we should."


      Pete's walking away down this hall. It doesn't go anywhere, and dead ends just behind the girls' gym. It's where the school stores things it only needs once a year, like the stage for graduation. It used to be where you'd smoke cigarettes. Since Columbine, it's watched over by cameras, so it's where students go when they need the school's help.
      "Pete." That was a loud whisper.
      He looks back at me for a second, then keeps walking, and raises one hand to mean stop or I'm okay. "I'll tell you tonight," he says.
      "We need to talk."
      He gets to a cinderblock wall, and leans against it. Then he turns his head, and sees me watching him, I guess. "Fuck. I'll tell you."
      "What was up with Gilman?"
      "Nothing," he says. "The guy's an asshole."
      "Why were you crying last night?"
      "Why are you doing this?" Pete says. I think he's crying again. "I'm just trying to think for five fucking minutes. I haven't been thinking all fucking day."
      "Because I'm confused."
      "Can't you wait?" he says. His voice is a rag.


      Gilman is standing with two of his shaved headed, t-shirt and jeans wearing crowd. I just left Pete, and turned a corner. I know one of them, Jeanne, who's his girlfriend. I think they were waiting for Pete, and seem surprised.
      "What's Pete doing?" Gilman says. His hands are punched in the pockets of his jeans. So I punch my hands in mine. You have to do that with him.
      "Hey," Jeanne says. She used to be my girlfriend. I make her act tense because I know why she turned into a Nazi. It's not supposed to be personal.
      "Chilling, I think. Hey, Jeanne."
      "Are we cool?" Gilman says. He's really studying me. So it's weirdly nice.
      "I'm seeing Pete tonight."
      "He said " Gilman says. "Where?"
      I have to think about that for a second. "The hill." Then I watch him.
      He has a bony and glaring white face that talks politics all the time, so getting deep enough into his eyes is a puzzle. "Come by after," he says.
      "Look, I don't know if I can kill Pete."
      "What?" Gilman says. He looks at Rick and Jeanne, who make these faces like they didn't already know. Then he stares angrily at the ground.
      "But I have this other idea."
      "I don't care," Gilman says. "Just make sure we're cool."


      It's my last class today, and the one where I used to do well. It's journalism, but I'm beyond it. You write articles about the school for the high school newspaper. We're supposed to be thinking up new ones. I was in my head, with a gun aimed at Pete. We were in the woods. I couldn't decide if he was naked or what else had already happened. So when I see the world again, I'm confused.
      "Larry," the teacher says. I think that was the second time he did.
      "Yeah?"
      This Black soccer coach just walked into the classroom. He said something secretive to the teacher, and sat on the edge of the desk. Then they shot me the same, confusing look. I'm never the point of anything in this class, so most students did, too
      "You're friends with Pete Hampton?" the teacher says.
      "Sort of."
      "They're friends," the coach says quietly, and rubs one of his giant, bare legs.
      Someone laughs, because I almost never talk. It might be the 'sort of' thing, too, since Pete's such an alcoholic. Or it could be how gay the coach seems when you're dressed.
      "Larry," the teacher says again. The coach is back on his feet, and almost everyone's laughing around me. So it takes me a second.
      "Oh, right."


      Pete was a star on the soccer team last year. I wrote an article about it. But he lost interest last summer, and quit. I wasn't there. People who liked him back then blame the people who like him right now. I'm one of maybe three. The Black coach seems to like Pete either way, but now it's a secret. The rumor is Pete got too drunk and let the coach fool around. I started that. We share a gym class, and Pete's locker's near mine. The coach is always hanging around to make sure no one fights. But he just watches Pete get undressed, like I do. Sometimes we catch each other looking, and stop. It's so obvious.


      We're in an office that's set aside for the coaches. There's no bookshelf, just soccer posters from Europe. I've only seen it from the hall. Pete's slumped down in a chair, and I'm standing with my arms tightly crossed.
      "You cool?"
      "Yeah, I'm fucking great," Pete says.
      "So what's Pete's problem?" the coach says to me. He's sitting between us on top of his desk, but that doesn't seem as gay here. "In your mind."
      "Fuck you," Pete says to him.
      "I don't know." I said that like I didn't, then smiled like I secretly did. "No idea," he says.
      "I think Pete's gay and doesn't want to be." "That's such bullshit," Pete says, and looks out the window. "Why do you say that?" the coach says to me. "We're both going out with the same girl. That's what she thinks." "More bullshit," Pete says.
      "I think the problem is his friends," the coach says.
      "Larry's not my friend," Pete says.
      "So what are you?" the coach says to me. Then we both look at Pete, and wait.
      "Two guys who are fucking the same girl," Pete says after a second, and laughs sarcastically at us or maybe something out the window.
      "All right," the coach says, laughing too. He slaps Pete's shoulder. Then they both look confusingly at me.


      Pete's shotgun in my car with a cup of sloshing coffee. The nurse made it for him, after school suspended him for a week. The coach let me leave early so I could give him a ride.
      "Please, Larry," he says. He doesn't want to go home, and just asked me again to hang out until later. I can't tell if I'm still upset about that crack about Jude, or just pretending I am.
      "I have a doctor's appointment."
      "What's the difference?" he says. He means if he waits in the car. That's already established, but I forgot. I'm nervous.
      "So you're still going to tell me."
      Pete slides down low in the seat, and puts his shoes up on the dashboard. It's a different decision, I guess. I'm not gay. Then he looks at the coffee cup, and turns it around and around. It's red, but doesn't have a pattern. So that's nerves, too.
      "So are you?"
      "Yeah," he says. "If you promise…"
      "Obviously." I know it isn't.
      He thinks about that, or something else, and keeps revolving his cup. The traffic light's red, so we're stopped. Dr. Thorne's office is maybe eight blocks away. So I decide to do something to Pete because I can ask what it means about me in a minute.
      "Shit," Pete says afterwards. "What the fuck?'
      "I know, okay?"
      I drove by Dr. Thorne's without thinking, and have to make an illegal U turn. I don't know what happened to the cup. It's not there, and he hasn't redone his jeans. I unzipped them. That's all I had time for. I guess he needs to think about what I did, too. So I make the U, then park, and we sit here.
      "I have to go."
      Pete's patting his leg. I know it could mean anything in the world. "Then go," he says.


      There's a window facing out on the street. The walls are just very packed bookshelves. I try to concentrate on the spines while we talk. I mean the titles. They're my only way into his head, but they're just ways into mine. He doesn't realize I don't understand them. I'm especially cold around him, but he's the coldest.
      "Why don't you talk about Jim?" he says.
      I just made him get up and look out at my car, then admit Pete would be considered attractive, if you were gay or not. He's back in his chair, and I'm still in mine.
      "He and I are cool."
      "Your problems with Jim began when your friend died," he says.
      "Well, you want me to say I wondered if I was gay."
      That takes him a second. "And you're not wondering now," he says.
      "I'm not wondering at all."
      "Do you think you're in love with Jude?" he says.
      "I don't know."
      "Do you think you're in love with Jim?" he says.
      "Fuck you."
      "What would you say is the difference?" he says.
      "That Jim's in love with me."
      He has to think about that. "What did your mother see last night?" he says.
      "She saw me walk down the hall."
      "You were naked," he says.
      "Yeah, and I guess she got off on it." As soon as I say that, I'm dead. I guess his books work, or one of them. It's also that I'm tired.
      "What do you mean by that?" he says. "That you're a fucking asshole."
      "Why am I a bleeping asshole?" he says.
      "Because you know I don't want to talk about Jim."
      "What do you want to talk about?" he says.
      "Do you think I'm gay?"
      "Do you think you're gay?" he says.
      "No. Do you think I'm gay?"
      That takes him a second. "I think the issue can't be resolved until you've had a consensual gay experience," he says.
      That takes me a second.. "You're obsessed."
      "What am I obsessed with?" he says.
      "With Jim."
      "How so?" he says.
      "Because you don't even know Jim, but you keep talking about him."
      "Jim's in treatment with me," he says. That takes me a second. "Why?" "For depression," he says.
      "Okay." Now I'm looking for something to throw. It would have to be a book. If I throw it at him, he'll ask why. He cares more about what I do wrong than my mom does.
      "You're uncomfortable with that," he says.
      "No, I'm just surprised."
      "That's understandable," he says. "So what are you going to tell my mom?"
      "That you've agreed to go back into treatment," he says.
      "Okay." Then I get up and leave. It was time anyway. When your sessions are over, he picks up this pen so you'll know. He was looking at it.


      Pete was asleep when I got back to the car. So I drove toward the hill, but I realized it's too light, and turned back. Then I parked by Jim's school, and moved the gun into my pocket. It was under the seat. Most kids have gone home, but Jim sometimes stays late to hang out with a teacher he likes. I just think if I see him, I'll decide. I know that's his red, scratched up bike.
      "Where are we?" Pete says. I just unzipped his pants again to make sure, which I guess woke him up. He looks at Jim's school, and zips his pants.
      "Here's an idea."
      "Jesus Christ," he says. I don't think that's about anything. He's still getting a rush off the world.
      "You know that guy Tran?"
      "The ice skater bug," he says. That's how people differentiate Tran. It's just about his stiff posture, and what it makes out of the back of his pants. It's either gross or exciting, depending on if you're straight or maybe gay and drunk.
      "What if we did it with him instead?"
      He looks at me, and just blinks. "Instead of what?" he says.
      "Instead of what we were going to do."
      "Wow," he says, and I guess tries to think a lot more, or more clearly. I watch him, then just happen to glance out the car.
      "Duck down."


      Jim walks out of the school, sure enough with some teacher. It could be a man who has nothing to do with the school. They say something, or one of them does, and Jim unlocks his bike. When he's straddling it, and has ridden for part of a block, I start the car. Pete's sitting up by then, and we're driving.
      "Do you think Jim's better looking than Tran?"
      Pete looks at my eyes, then follows them to Jim's back. He got my mom 5 thin, blond, nervous thing. "That's your brother?" he says, and squints. "No, it's not."
      I speed up a little.
      "Shit, what happened to him?" he says.
       "He's depressed. And you're not drunk."
      Pete puts one hand up between Jim and him, like Jim's the sun. He adjusts it a little, and shuts one eye. "Oh, I get it"' he says.
      "What?"
      "You mean if I was shit faced drunk?" he says. "And if Jude was there, and she was into it?" If he says he would do it with Jim, I'm going to kill him. That'lI be the reason.
      "Go for it."


      I hit Rand because of how he talked about Jim. It wasn't what he accused me of doing. Maybe I thought that was it. Later I realized it was the words he had used. They made Jim into someone who couldn't control what he felt, and made me into someone Rand didn't know better than anyone else. I didn't know you could change things with words, so it was intense. For a minute afterwards, I believed Rand. I guess he got me to admit to what Jim and I did. Then for a while after that, I saw Jim through Rand's eyes, and decided I was sick. So I thought if I hit Rand hard enough, it would stop.


      I just introduced Pete to my mom. Dad's next. He's sitting out in the backyard. I can hear his radio. It's always tuned to some noisy talk station. That was the doctor's idea. Mom was gardening, from her clothes.
      I can tell she's had a couple of drinks, so I'm afraid of her face. It's not hers. That's what happens. It joins this insane women's club.
      "So we're going upstairs, I guess." We've established almost everything else, and it's now or not at all. "Is Jim here?"
      She's looking confusedly at Pete. He's handsome, so I guess she can't just see another one of my friends. "You know Jim's friend Bill?" she says.
      I can't see Pete's face, so I'm tense. "Vaguely."
      "Not really," Pete says.
      "He's gone missing," she says. Then something happens to her eyes, and she turns and looks at nothing. I think it's my dad.
      "That's weird."
      "Jim's at Bill's grandmother's house," she says. Then something in her makes the back of her head or hair shake. "Your dad just told me he doesn't love me."
      "Hunh."


      I stole Pete a six pack of beer from the fridge. He's drinking the fourth, so he's not as nervous. He got belligerent about the thing with the boy, and decided to leave. He keeps saying he should, but he'll be too shit faced any minute. I know him. I thought it would take her much longer to figure things out. The grandmother, I mean. In his notebook, the boy disappears all the time.
      "What's the matter?" Jim says. We're on the phone. His nose is usually stuffed up from some medication he takes, so I don't know if he's upset.
      "Pete's here." I said that like I wasn't.
      "Oh, shit," Pete says. He was looking through my old rack of CDs, but turned around at the sound of his name, then took another swallow.
      "She's really upset," Jim says. I guess I hear that in the background.
      "But doesn't he always run away and stuff?"
      "Tell him to bring a girl," Pete says.
      "What?" Jim says. Then I hear even more, deeper, less upset voices around him. "I'm sorry. The police want me to get off the phone."
      "Come home, okay?"
      Jim doesn't say anything for a second. He must know what I'm asking. "One second," he says. I think that was to the police. "Why?"
      "You know why."
      "So Larry can fuck you," Pete says, and laughs. That was loud. So I guess he's shit faced enough. I guess it could have been sarcastic. Either way, he made me laugh, which I shouldn’t have done without putting my hand on the phone.
      "Pete's drunk."
      "What?" Jim says, I'm not sure to whom. It doesn't matter.
      "Nothing."
      I just hit Pete, not that hard. It was either hit him, or turn gay. I think I was gay for a minute. He fell off the bed, and broke a videotape I don't own. Pete was tired of waiting for Jim, and I guess got impatient. I was afraid he would leave, so I started. I guess I didn't like it, or liked it too much. He's sitting on the floor. Rand was unconscious, so that's different.
      "I can't believe this." I mean what I was thinking before I hit Pete. I guess I'm crying, and have been crying for a minute.
      "You're losing it," Pete says. "And you have to fucking not."
      "Maybe." I just grabbed my knees, and pulled them close to my chest. That's never good. I know myself.
      "Look, I don't care if you're gay, but "I'm not."
      "You want to talk?" Pete says. He just stood up. "Because you re really, really acting insane. It's like you're not here. It's like you're not you."
      "I don't know."
      "If you want to give me a blow job, just do it," he says. I think he's angry. "Why are you making such a big fucking deal out of it?"
      "What were you going tell me?"
      That or something else I did or said makes him hit me in the shoulder. "Oh, Christ," he says. "No fucking way." Then I guess he starts to leave.
      "Don't, okay?"

      My mom just knocked, and said there was an Oriental here to see me. She knows his name. That's just more drunkenness. Names go, then who, then any logic, then the world I understand. I've stopped stressing out about why Pete took off, and what he'll tell everyone about me, but it's taken a couple of beers and concentration.
      "Yeah, come in."
      Tran's wearing this pair of black pants I said I liked when I was drunk. I guess I still do, or just the rear. It's the ice skater thing, and my beer.
      "Here." I hand him one.
      "You changed your room," Tran says, walking around. He's doing that so I'll get every view of his ass, and he hasn't started drinking.
      "No, I didn't."
      I guess he doesn't know what to say about that, and sits down on my bed. "Well, something's different," he says.

      I'm driving somewhere that I haven't decided. I could find Gilman's street, or make a U turn, and take the freeway. I could find Jude's cabin, or that motel from last night. Tran's drinking his second beer, so he's wasted. It doesn't take much. He keeps almost passing out, then barely opening his eyes. The world's not worth it. We're practically at the hill. The street has broken up into gravel, then turned into dirt. It stops all cars dead at a gate, where you can pull off and park. I just did, and tried to start something with Tran. I couldn't tell if he liked it, or if that was his beer, and my beer made the rest of it up. So that got me upset. My being upset woke him up, and he suddenly opened his door. I had to grab him to get that to stop.

      "It's Larry." I just fished Tran's cell phone out of his pocket. First I punched him a couple of times, and he's quiet.
      "What do you want?" Gilman says. I think I can hear the outdoors making noises around him. They have a backyard.
      "You know that guy Tran?"
      I guess Gilman thinks about that. "I know who he is," Gilman says.
      "I'm with him right now, and I'm kind of confused."
      "Look, this vigilante shit" Gilman says. He can't go on. It must confuse him. After Pete left, I read more of the notebook. The Gilman part's vague, but I think I know why the boy's dead, and Pete's next. But I need to make sure.
      "I don't know what to do."
      "What do you mean you're with him?" Gilman says.
      "We're sitting in my car."
      "What do you want me to do about it?" Gilman says. "Why are you calling me?"
      "I don't know. I need a rationale." He likes that word. If you look at his website, it's there about five thousand times. I don't think he understands
      it.
      "Look, I don't like bugs, okay," he says. But I don't know the guy."
      "What's there to know?" It's all in the way I said that. Then I wait. "Okay, fuck, where are you?" Gilman says.

      I've dragged Tran off the road, and down a slope. I made him walk at first, but he fell down and started to yell, so I hit him again. He sounded more like a dog, so we're safe. I took his pants off, and threw them as far away as I could. He's where and how I laid him. This isn't how I ever wanted to do it, or with whom, but I'm trying again. It still won't work, but I hit him really hard in the head that last time. So I'm practically alone, and I don't think it counts.

      Gilman gets close enough to see us, and stops. I heard him coming, and quit what I was doing in time. "Fuck," he says. "You fucking idiot."
      "I'm really confused."
      I guess Gilman looks at Tran long enough to see his back move, then crouches down to make sure. "Okay, what's going on?"
      "I don't know."
      "What are you asking me to do?" he says.
      "Do you think I'm gay?"
      "Fuck, I don't know," Gilman says.
      "Do you think if I don't kill him, I am?"
      He has to think about that. "Did you really not read the notebook?" he says.
      "I read parts."
      "I guess I'd say don't do it," he says. First he shut his eyes tight. "Because I understand, but I don't think that's a good enough reason."
      "What if I just rape him?"
      "That's probably better," he says, and hugs himself. He takes a deep breath, and slowly lets it out. "So what's wrong with him?"
      I pull Tran's hair. His head lifts, but nothing else happens in him.
      "Fuck," Gilman says. He looks at me, and I can tell he's upset that I know. Then there's nothing to say, or it's too complicated for him.
      "He's gay."
      "Oh," he says. "I hate gay people."
      "Yeah."
      "I could go off on the whole thing with the Nazis," he says. "They did some really sick things."
      "They weren't gay."
      "Well, that isn't why they did it," he says. "Or those Matthew Shepard guys. They had girlfriends."
      "See, this is why I wanted you to come."
      "So did you really burn the notebook?" Gilman says. He just raped Tran, and is pulling up his pants. He started the rape on his knees, then slid his hands underneath Tran and pretended there were breasts. Then he looked angrily at me, and lay down on Tran's back, and whispered some swear words. So I'm confused now.
      "Yeah."
      "If you kill him afterwards, I won't say anything," he says. He means after my turn raping Tran. But I'm not gay, and deciding how to tell him. When I saw how he acted, I knew. I don't give enough of a shit about Tran to pretend he's a girl. That's different.
      "Or you could do it."
      "That's true," he says. I just handed him the gun.
      "Then you'd know."

      Gilman just grabbed my arm and tried to pull me off Tran, but he couldn't. He didn't fire the gun. I couldn't make him. Maybe he tried to explain his rationale, and I lost it. I was hitting Tran, but Gilman stopped me.
      "Is everyone all right?" some voice yells, maybe again. It's coming from up on the hill. I didn't hear any cars, but I forget people walk.
      "Yeah," Gilman yells.
      I start to hit Tran again, but Gilman grabs my arm.
      "What's going on down there?" the voice yells.
      "Fuck off," Gilman yells. He's holding my arm really tight, so I'm coming around to the world.
      "Let go."
      "Larry," Gilman whispers. "Fucking Jesus."
      "Well, keep it down," the voice yells. Then I guess whoever yelled at us walks away, because some leaves crunch. They're far away from us like the stars.
      "What?!"
      "What the fuck are you doing?" Gilman says. I guess he means why am I yelling and why was I punching the ground. Tran isn't there anymore. I can see that.

      Gilman's taken off, and I'm driving. The gravel just rehardened into a street. There aren't any houses around, just foundations for ones in the future. Tran is limping in my headlights, and turned to look. His face is fat and badly shaped on one side, and there's a big dot of blood on his dirty underpants. When he sees it's my car, he sits down on the curb.
      "Hey." I rolled down the window first. I don't know what else.
      "What just happened?" Tran says.
      That takes me a second. "Gilman caught us having sex, and I had to pretend I was beating you up."
      Tran looks up at me for a weirdly long time, then starts crying. He has a high pitched and nasal bug voice, so it's intense.
      I hold his pants and shirt out the window. He doesn't see that at first, until I shake them and yell. "Come on. Hurry."

      My mom's passed out drunk in a chair. I saw her body from the back. Her TV show has turned into some news program she'd never watch. Dad's easily in bed by now, and Jim probably crashed. His door is unlocked, because I tried the handle. I just called Jude to give myself and him a chance.
      "I was asleep," she says. I just reminded her about our thing for tonight, and explained why I'm late. I left some parts out. I just need her to say it.
      "Please, Jude. I'm really confused."
      She lets that sit, and I guess thinks. I'm too tired now to feel out the silence. Or else everyone and everything's tired except me.
      "I should go back to sleep," she says.
      "I really think I'm going to do something sick."
      "Larry," she says, or more like starts. It doesn't go anywhere for a second. "Pete's here."
      I know what that means. If I hadn't left the gun in my car, I'd kill myself right now, so she could hear it. "So you're in love with him?"
      "So I know you're gay," she says. "So fuck off."

      When I stopped getting drunk, I turned into a liar. That's the only way I could stop. I told everyone I hit Rand because he did something gay to Jim. I didn't think he actually did until those naked pictures showed up and confused me. I didn't think about what I was feeling for Jim until Rand confused me. I think when I hit him, and maybe the boy or even Tran, I was trying to kill myself out of shock. I don't know if Rand was lying. I don't know if Jim's just an innocent victim, or if Rand made that up. I don't know or else want to know if I raped Jim those times, or if Rand only saw it that way because he was gay and I'm not. I don't know if Jim feels suicidal without me, or if the boy wrote that down in his notebook because he was suicidal and thought everyone was like him. I don't know if the boy really wanted to die, or just felt depressed about everything for a minute. I know I should read the whole notebook again right this second. I just can't.

      I'm standing by Jim's bed. He was asleep, or almost. Maybe I shook him. He used to wake up suddenly at the wrong times of night, and come into my bedroom. That's what started it. He'd say he was upset, and just wanted to talk. I loved that part. It's been a long time. I came in here wanting to tell him the truth about killing the boy, until I saw him asleep. Then I wanted to say I was sorry I raped him those times, if I did, but when he woke up, I couldn't. Now I want to do both or neither. I can't tell.
      "What's the matter?" he says.
      "Nothing."
      "What's that?" he says. I was reading a book about ghosts to calm down. That didn't work, and it's still in my hand.
      "I don't know."
      He turns on this little lamp by his bed. So I hand him the book. When he sits up, the sheet falls down, and I can see that he's naked. It's a book about communicating with the dead. That and maybe Jim are all I care about understanding these days.
      "I saw Dr. Thorne."
      "Mom told me," he says.
      ''I didn't know you were going to him.''
      "Yeah," Jim says.
      "So what does it mean?"
      Jim checks in with me. I'm looking down at his stomach. He looks there, but doesn't know what I'm seeing. Otherwise, he wouldn't put the book down and lie back, so I can look really close. "I don't know," he says in this soft voice. I can't describe it
      "Yeah, you fucking do."

      I guess I dragged Jim off the bed, and strangled him on the floor, but I've stopped. He's on one side, coughing and holding his mouth to be quiet. I'm on my knees beside him. I don't think he yelled, or I'd know. Whenever I realize how much I used to worry about him, I always lose it. I used to drive to a rifle range somewhere and shoot off my guns. When my dad confiscated them, I'd get drunk.
      "Larry," he says. 'What's the matter?"
      "Don't."
      "Okay," he says. He sits up and yanks one of the sheets off his bed, then pulls it over himself. So I pull it off him, and he starts to cry. He can't control anything when he cries, so it's scary to see. He can't help that.
      "I'm sorry." I mean for always doing what he wanted me to do, if that's true. It's so confusing. When I pulled off the sheet, I wanted to put it back
      on. So I do.
      "What's wrong?" he says.
      "Nothing." I yelled that, so he looks at the door. You can't hear people walk in this house, because the carpet's so thick. But I guess Mom doesn't care if I'm upset, or she'd already be here. "Just fucking say it."
      "Larry," Jim says.
      "Don't."
      "Don't what?" he says, and start to cry even harder. It's more like he's wailing. I just pulled the sheet off him again.
      "I don't know."
       

2002 Dennis Cooper

This electronic version of  chapter two from  My Loose Thread appears in The Barcelona Review with kind permission of the author's agent and publisher, Canongate Books, U.K. 
Book ordering: amazon.co.uk & amazon.com

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author bio Dennis Cooper - photo

Dennis Cooper is the author of the novels Closer, Frisk, Try, Guide, and Period, and the short story collection Wrong. Closer has been named one of the Publishing Triangle’s 100 Best Lesbian & Gay Novels, and Guide was a Los Angeles Times bestseller and one of its Ten Best Books of the Year. His latest novel, My Loose Thread, from which this extract is taken, is due out this July from Canongate Books, U.K. [see TBR’s sneak preview of My Loose Thread]

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